Kent wildlife picture of the month

Marsh harrier

Marsh harrier - Credit: Archant

Kent photographer Nigel Morley on how to capture wildlife on camera

I was brought up and have lived in rural Kent (I’m now near Sissinghurst) most of my adult life. An early interest in wildlife as a child definitely sowed the roots of my love of the great outdoors. My introduction to serious photography came through a Saturday job as a teenager in a Tunbridge Wells camera shop, which led to me photographing everything from racing cars to cathedrals.

When my career in London became more serious, photography took a bit of of a backseat, but then the introduction of digital technology reignited my interest and was a perfect antidote to the confines of being in offices and on trains most of the week.

I quickly found that my love of the natural world opened up an endless list of photographic opportunities and challenges both locally and abroad.

While I love landscape, sports, portraits and most other genres, I find wildlife photography addictive as it combines the need for good technique with the patience and knowledge needed to get the co-operation of a wild and often frustrating subject.

I very much try and concentrate on the light and composition in my shots rather than just a record of what I’ve seen. I use Nikon cameras and lenses as have used them since I was 18 and never had reason to question their quality or reliability.

I have been fortunate to have success as a runner up in the annual Scottish Nature Photography Awards, the British Wildlife Photography Awards and indeed winning the Fauna section of this year’s local Kent Wildlife Trust competition.

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I also now do one-to-one tuition and workshops for people who perhaps have a good camera but want to learn how to use its full capabilities to improve their photography. I find it very satisfying to see the improvement and enjoyment people get when the technical issues are explained clearly and simply in just a few hours.

Like many birds of prey, Marsh Harriers are specialists, hunting for their prey over marshland and reedbeds both inland and in coastal areas. They fly low, flapping their large wings between long, slow glides interrupted only by occasional hovering and twisting as they spot potential food below them. The male is smaller but more distinctly marked while the female is darker with a paler head. As spring approaches breeding pairs can be seen performing an elaborate aerial courtship, which often involves passing food to each other while in flight.

Driven to extinction in the UK 100 years ago, breeding numbers have recovered but still to only an estimated 400 pairs. We are lucky as Kent is the UK stronghold for this rare bird as the extensive and undisturbed wetlands of places like the North Kent marshes and Sheppey provide perfect habitat. These conditions on some of the county’s nature reserves like Elmley, Stodmarsh and Dungeness mean they are ideal places to try and get a glimpse of this stunning bird.

As a photographer Marsh Harriers present me with several challenges. They like to keep their distance from people and hunt methodically over quite large areas and hence only stay in one place for a very limited time, so knowing their routine and keeping well hidden are vital.

A DSLR camera, with a fairly long telephoto lens (this image was on a 500mm lens), are a real asset but being in a hide on a reserve or using your car as a mobile hide near where they regularly patrol will often pay dividends by bringing them much closer. w

Get in touch: nigelpmorley@gmail.com or 07979 656433 or visit: www.nigelmorley.co.uk. See also page 10 in this edition.

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