As we all know, this year has been such a challenge for everyone with the threat of Covid-19 affecting all that we do.
Photographers have been no exception as we have also had to adapt to new working practices.
All of my weddings were wiped out from my diary except for one. Photoshoot plans had to be postponed or scrapped entirely.
My 9-5 job had me glued to my computer screen as I worked from home and for my own sanity I just had to make the most of my daily exercises.
Therefore I made the decision to explore the banks of the River Otter, (a destination close to where I live), and document the wildlife that I encountered.
In all my years as a photographer I have never seen such a wealth of wonderful flora and fauna and all within walking distance of my home.
I am convinced that nature has been far more in abundance this year than usual, perhaps due in part to the reduced visitor footfall along the riverbanks in Spring.
It has been a year of 'firsts' for me: the obvious one is that it's the first time I've experienced living in a pandemic.
This year has also been the first time I bought a brand new car (treat to myself after some bad personal stuff happened).
After researching places to spot the Milkyway, and to try out my 14mm wide-angle lens, I decided to go on the spur of the moment to Dartmoor at midnight for the 'first' time to witness our galaxy rising over Brentor Church (a truly magical experience).
This year was the first time I'd photographed a socially-distanced wedding where face masks had to be worn - a truly unusual shoot but equally special since the people were lovely and I made every effort to make the photographs as natural as possible, given the circumstances.
An absolute stand-out moment for me this year was when I teamed up with a fellow photographer to go in search of a location and witness a meteor for the first time.
But the most 'firsts' that I've ever had came from my rambles along the River Otter and the wildlife I've spotted there.
Here is some of the animals that I've spotted on my walks:
1. A goosander and her 14 chicks:
I was walking at first light and turned a bend to see these cute chicks, which must have been only a couple of weeks old. They were swimming furiously out to their mother from a stoney island in the middle of the fast flowing water and climbed upon her back once they reached her. I had to be very quick with the camera as it was all over in less than a minute.
2. A red crested woodpecker:
I'd seen signs of woodpecker activity and was amazed to see a dead tree with many drill holes from the bird's activities. It was around lunchtime when I was walking through the third field along my trek when I heard the distinctive hammering on wood. It didn't take me long to locate where I knew the animal must have been hiding since there was only one old oak tree in the middle of a tall grassy stretch from where the sound was coming from. I walked very slowly towards the tree and got into position looking everywhere for the woodpecker. I finally saw it hanging upside down on the underside of a thick branch picking out the dead bark in search of insects. It was a pleasure to see such a lovely bird and one to tick off my photo bucket list.
3. Otters really do live on the River Otter
Having met plenty of walkers on my early-morning ambles, I'd heard rumours of a lot of otter activity on the lower, faster stretches of the river. So I checked my maps and headed on out at 5am to stalk the river banks. I knew I would need to get in to position early before too many dog walkers arrived and blew any chance of a photo opportunity. Though I have spent days on end perfecting my craft and learning all I can about photography, I definitely think luck has to be on your side to achieve your best shots. If that's true then l had rolled double sixes and came up trumps.
I was so fortunate to spot through a line of trees no less than three otters frolicking in a shallow stretch. I had mere seconds to frame up my shots, look for the all important expression that makes successful shots, and then the moment passed. I was so elated with the results that I returned later that day, an hour before sunset. And once again I was rewarded for my efforts! Three otters (likely the same ones I'd seen earlier) came racing like torpedos just under the surface. Once again, I only had a short time to capture the otters on camera, I even managed to get a small video of them before the disappeared under the water!
4. "Let's take a walk along the river and see if we can spot a beaver"... eh?
That's what I told my 8-year-old niece one day who thought I was pulling her leg!
Unfortunately she never did see a beaver as we walked along the more covered stretches of the river, but we did see signs of beaver activity - gnawed branches here and there and lodges in the middle of the river.
Now you may be forgiven for reading this and thinking you have strayed upon a 'fake news' article, but I can assure you - I'm not making this up.
There is indeed a family of beavers living on the River Otter, one of a handful of locations in the country where they exist in the wild.
How the animals came to be living on the river no one can say but they seem to be thriving since they were first discovered here in 2013.
Following their discovery, the Devon WIldlife Trust appealed to DEFRA (who were looking to relocate the mammals at the time) to trial a study on the beavers' activities on the River Otter.
This year the Devon Wildlife Trust celebrated after the Government made the decision to allow the beavers to stay and have a permanent residence on the river.
I for one am very happy that they can stay and I look forward to seeing the beavers again on my evening walks along the river.
Despite the ongoing pandemic there is hope of a vaccine rollout across the country in the not too distant future. At the time of writing this blog, though, the virus has since mutated and is causing more headaches with getting it under control and we seem to be on the brink of perhaps another national lockdown.
I for one am keeping optimistic that things will return to a sense of normality next year, but if the worst does happen then I intend to make the most of my daily exercises. I will once again head to the banks of the River Otter and keep an eye out for more wildlife encounters.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and if you would like to get in touch about a guided photo walk along the River Otter then please feel free to contact me