The cold dark days of December spells dormancy for many creatures - but that needn't include you.
This is the time of year when foxes are in prime condition and their breeding season begins. They can sometimes be heard at night; usually it is the shriek like scream of a vixen that gives the game away. At this time of the year a vixen will be shadowed by her mate. She is fertile for only a few days each year and the man in her life wants to make sure he is around at the right time. Taking the effort to photograph foxes in the early daylight hours is well worth it. You won't get them looking any better. Vegetation is sparse so the chances of a good view are improved. And of course, sunrise is at a most civilised hour during this month.
Grey seals have now finished birthing and weaning their pups. This means that they are now ready for breeding and bull seals diligently patrol their harems. Battles over women between eager young bulls and the old hands can make for exciting photography.
As winter tightens its grip red deer are forced off the mountains in search of food. Large deer populations that roam the Scottish Highlands provide the best photographic opportunities, and it's not unusual to get excellent results from a car (have a read of "Drive 'n' Hide" in the articles library).
Now is the time to capitalise on your winter-feeding station. The short days mean that birds have less time to feed, so activity should be as frantic as it will get. If you have been feeding regularly, then on cold mornings birds will be queuing up breakfast. Perched on nearby twigs their feathers will be puffed up for insulation. This also makes the smaller birds look really cute. You will need a long lens, a sturdy tripod, and possibly fill-flash.
Robins begin to establish their breeding territories. These are claimed and then proclaimed by singing from regular locations. Keep your ears open for their melodious tunes and watch where they sing. Clever use of a hide could get you a winning shot of these friendly birds. If you want to get a classic in-the-snow shot set up a suitable perch and place a few mealworms on it each day. Robins are mealworm junkies and will quickly visit the spot frequently. Now when snow arrives your chances of getting the picture you want will be greatly improved.
Keep your eyes open for berry laden holly or hawthorn bushes. Mistle thrushes tend to claim them for their own and will defend this life-saving larder with a vengeance. Ideally you want one next to a road so that your car can be your hide.
Stormy weather can bring impressive skies. So don't forget to look up now and again. Spectacular cloud formations and lighting effects can look really good against a bare tree in silhouette, particularly on at sunrise when clouds are fiery red. Try looking for examples that show their classic shape. Fast moving clouds create an unusual "soft but energetic" effect when a slow shutter speed is used.
If you are close to the coast then storms will also bring opportunities for shots of dramatic seas with crashing waves. You must take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your equipment. Don't put yourself in danger of being struck by large breaker, it's akin to being hit by a brick wall, and cover your camera. Use of a UV filter on the lens is also a wise move. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts; strong northerly winds seem to be best.
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