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Sixty at Sixty

A Quest to Photograph 60 species of European Mammal in my 60th Year


With a milestone birthday next year I wanted to set myself a photographic challenge that what be fun, but not that straight forward and also reflected my 60th Birthday.  It also had to be achievable with targets to hit along the way.  Should I try and photograph 60 species of butterfly in the UK? Photograph 60 species of birds I hadn't photographed before?  It was as I was driving up to Scotland to photograph Pine Martens and Red Squirrels that I came up with the idea of trying to photograph 60 species of European mammal

Photographing mammals is quite straight forward for some of common species used to people - deer in parks, grey squirrels at feeding stations, rabbits and hares from the car.  Smaller mammals require more planning and use of some of the specialist hides that are available to hire.  I was also going to need some carefully thought out trips into Europe (Covid permitting).

My next decision was when to start the quest and how long to allow myself, I decided on a 12-month period from the first mammal photograph taken after by 59th birthday.  My "interval targets" are:

BRONZE - to see and photograph 40 European mammals

SILVER - to see 60 species and photograph 40 species

GOLD - to see and photograph 60 species of European mammals


Searching through my catalogue of images, the first mammal to fall to the camera was one of the local rabbits as we were walking the dogs in late June.


With a free weekend in late June I arranged for an overnight visit to Tom Robinson's Pond Hide to photograph European Otter.  I never tire of photographing the Otters at Tom's, and this visit was to be no different, with one of the Otters putting in regular appearances during the hours of darkness.


We haven't seen Hedgehogs in our garden for a few years, so on inside one my large humane mammal traps one July morning was quite a surprise, but did provide with some photo opportunities, until I turned away and quietly ran off!


In August we had planned to go to Finland to photograph Brown Bear, with the possibility of Wolverine and Wolf thrown in.  Unfortunately, due to the economic impact of COVID 19, Finnair were running a reduced flight schedule with no internal flights from Helsinki to Kajanni, so our trip was cancelled.  Instead we travelled up to Perthshire in search of Scottish Mammals, starting off with a day at Penny Hedge.  During the day Red Squirrels entertained us, and once night arrived we were able to photograph firstly Brown Rat and eventually Pine Marten, or actual target species.  The latter were photographed under floodlight supplemented by remote flash.  We also saw Mountain Hare, Red Deer and Roe Deer, but no photographs.


I suppose the first challenge with photographing small mammals is seeing them when you have the camera ready.  My choice though is to set my Longworth Small Mammal Traps in suitable habitat and then transfer the catch to the studio where I have several tanks set up into which the mice, voles or shrews are released and allowed to settle down before I photograph them.  Most of my trapping is done at Pikelow and on the weekend on 26th and 27th September I manage to catch and photograph House Mouse, Wood Mouse and Bank Vole.  A Field Vole managed to escape, but I can try again for those.  All the mammals were released at the end of the day.


Saturday 10 October I'd planned to lead members of the Holmes Chapel Photographic Society to photograph Red Deer and Fallow Deer at Tatton Park.  Although the weather was rather inclement, with rain showers during the visit, the stags still bellowed and defended their harems against unwanted intruders.  Had the weather been more suitable I'd have spent some time photographing Grey Squirrel, but I'm sure they won't be difficult to catch up with during the year.


On Friday 24 October I travelled up to Dumfries and Galloway, with the aim of photographing Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, followed by a late afternoon and evening session on 25 Oct at a reflection pool for Badger.  Whilst driving to my overnight accommodation on the Friday I kept seeing small numbers of Roe Deer  and thoughts of a slow drive on Saturday pm looking for them on the back roads were beginning to form in mind, until I saw a car with all it's side remodelled after it collided with a 4x4 on the narrow roads.  My mind was made up - I wasn't going to try to photograph Roe Deer from the car.

Arriving at the Sparrowhawk hide on Saturday, Alan suggested that the wet weather forecast for the evening, it wasn't really worth trying for the badger.  Oh well this was a weekend devoted really to photographing birds of prey.  However whilst photographing Sparrowhawk and Buzzard I suddenly noticed that two Roe Deer were just behind the feeders.   Unfortunately due to the poor weather, the badger session was cancelled. The Roe Deer became the twelfth species of mammal photographed since my birthday.


Sunday 6 December dawned a bit dull and wet for photography, but as the rained eased I headed to Marbury Country Park near Northwich to photograph Grey Squirrel. Arriving at around 09:45 I made may way down to one of the feeding stations, in the hope that the squirrels would be raiding the feeders.  For a change though, no squirrels so after 10 minutes I walked along the mere edge to the slip way.  At the top of the slipway I came across quite a few squirrels, caching acorns for the winter.  The light was terrible and I had to push the ISO to 2000, even then I was only shooting at about  1/200 Sec at f/4.  Good job the Canon 5D Mk IV can handle it.


Covid restrictions have had a big impact on my quest to photograph 60 species of European Mammal before I reach 60 (in 6 weeks time).  However I had the opportunity to  visit a hide in a private garden at the start of May, where foxes are regular visitors. So on 1 May I set up my flash units and waited in the hide,  Eventually at 02:30 the vixen arrived (I'd been in the hide since 21:30!)  and gave a superb performance collecting food to take back to her cubs.


Julia and I should have been in Finland in May,  but again Covid said no, so we headed to Norfolk and spent the week birding and photographing.   Trips to Blakeney Point and Horsey Gap provided me with photographs of Grey Seal and Harbour Seal.  In addition record shots of Brown Hare were taken at a few sites.  Grey Seal (upper image) at Horsey and Harbour Seal at Blakeney Point.

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