A day at Whipsnade Zoo

Well after the slightly disappointing trip to London Zoo I set my sights on another zoo – this time Whipsnade. This was far further to get to (3 odd hours on public transport) and also involved timing to get one of the very few busses that went from the train station to the zoo. I decided to set off on Wednesday 19th March (yah this is a late update) so as to avoid the storm that would arrive on Monday and also to avoid the tourists and general crush of the weekend – and of Friday (when the new cheetah pen was opened).
So I was up and off at 6am and the sky was brilliant blue – not a cloud to be seen and the wind was light, but still holding a little chill of winter (I was glad to have taken my mac in the end). However despite good train times, I managed to miss the bus by mere moments and so I had to fork out for a taxi, the distance being far to great to walk in any sensible time and especially difficult without map or any local street knowledge. After that little hiccup there was another – by 10am (or rather 9:40am) the Zoo opened; it was a cold day now I was not moving much and the sun was starting to hide behind the vanguard of the approaching storms clouds. That did not stop me having a great day out or from capturing over 1000 shots on the day (well really 3-400 odd as I use multi-shot a lot!)

All taken with:

Cannon EOS 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
Tripod
For settings save pic to pc and review properties

Lions

Basking in the sun and glaring at passers by; they were a wonderful poses and very still, but just too close to the bars to get shots without the bars being present. Further they were completely out of sight from the glass viewing area – defiantly a cat that you could spend all day watching to get them in the right place and a dedicated sit and wait day with such an animal is something that I have considered doing in the future.

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All is fine in the world – I have my stick!

These next two have in focus bars – the overall effect is not as bad on the big screen as it is on the small – but it’s still bad enough.
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Nice angle with the cat, but the light is in the wrong place – casting shadows over and hiding much of the eyes – the focus is also a little out
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Solves some of the problems of the first, but without keeping the advantage of the direction of focus of the cat

The King!
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Seems to have had a few clawed encounters in his time

Tiger
Well from one big cat to another – and whilst one tiger was patrolling the boarders the other was content to laze around on the top of a wooden tower and doze!
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Though the light was wicked to me and the noise was likewise mean, this is another shot I love for the look that I captured – though I can’t tell if its a tiger or a beaver!

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Nicer light, mean bars still! But overall a nice shot

The next two were taken from up high on a hill behind the dozing cat – though for some reason my sky has gone green on me (something to play around with in editing later)
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Well next time I will spend more time photographing IDs of animals – they look so easy to remember on the day…
No idea what this is – but here it is, so kind of him to stand so still for so long – I got right down close.
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Note that the last is not a crop, but a closer shot altogether – and one that I feel I will crop a little closer at a later date.

Flamingo – Phoenicopterus ruber
I was going to walk right by the birds – but I spied a chance for some good shots of these birds – and was well rewarded
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A display showing pinioned wings which are done to the birds when young to prevent one wing from developing fully – preventing flight and also meaning that stressful clipping of the primary flight feathers is not needed.

White Rhinoceros – Ceratotherium simum
Well I followed the rhinos round their very large pen, but they kept moving away every time I got down to shoot – methinks they were tired of all the camera attention, though in the end I did get some shots.
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Zebra

Nothing much really to say here – just 2 quick shots; but I found that the zebra is an interesting thing to edit in Photoshop – it really benefits from a stronger darkening of highlights than other animals.

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Nile Lechwe
(the bachelor group)

All was quiet in the herd – and then two started a fight and another joined in – the fourth decided to ignore the others. When I took these I could have shot just above the fence, but I wanted to get lower down angles – a shame that the bars were not as out of focus as I would have liked.

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Recently I also used the burn tool to remove some of the highlights caused by the bars – I think it has improved the shots, the bars are still there, but they are less noticable now

Greater One-horned Rhinoceros – Rhinoceros unicornis

Well a new arrival means that mum and dad are separated whilst mum raises the child. I could only get above shots of the mum and child – but I could get rather closer to them than I could the dad who was out in the open grazing – not wondrous shots, but something of the good zoos do with keeping bloodlines viable and alive.

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Mum > Dad > Baby

American Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus Leucocephalus

Nice pose – but bars galore!
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Hawks

I really regret not spending longer in this area, no bars at all, but it was getting a little cooler by now and I still had some animals that I wanted to catch on camera before the weather broke at last.

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From where I was and using the 300mm end I got a few shots of this chap flapping, but in many I lost out on the ends of the wing.

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The light was not helping and this shot took quite a bit of work to get to a suitable level, even for a webpost. Still I like the end result enough to post it, but I aim to get better next time.

Duck

I had to lay down on the concrete to get this, not pleasant and the end result is a little dark – a case where I wish I had had a good flash.
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Tucan

Nice and sharp shots, but the bars were unavoidable.
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Otters

Well this is something of a pet-pain to shoot – I really want to get a good, clear, sharp shot of otters – yet they are tricky to shoot; Always moving makes them hard to focus on and they are often surrounded by people watching. Though the latter problem was not present on the day, the moving was and the light was getting very cloudy by now. Though I did find out that you only need one energetic otter to get good action!

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Red-tailed Kite

Well whilst I was about to photograph the wolves for a second time that day I noticed this bird flying high overhead. It was way, way to far out for my lens to get a clear shot of and at first I thought it was an escapee of the zoo – but the lack of the holders on the legs means that this is unlikely (as display birds always have these) so it looks to be a local come for a visit!

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Squirrel

Well these I tried as handheld and they came out much like the first, blurry – I however did get one really good keeper from the set where I balanced the camera on the fence in front of me to get it.

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Wolves!

Both the first and the last animal that I photographed were the wolves; though in both cases they were keeping to the back of the pen – a shame as they were just out of my lenses capacity to capture clear crisp shots – so all were a little more blurry than I would have liked. And though there was a section where the pathway was above the fence for viewing, it was almost impossible to get a shot without the background fence appearing and in many cases the top of the closer lower fence would creep into view.

Morning
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I have recently used the burn tool in photoshop over the lower section of these shots to lower the visablity of the bars – not perfect but a definate improvment.

Afternoon
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And the final shot of the day!
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Me trying out blurring water – I found that it was really too bright a time for such a shot and that very early morning or late evening where there is less light about would be better for taking such long shots. In this one I had to darken the highlights considerably to get a shot that was not too bright with glare – but I like the overall effect captured.

In the end I had a good day and only left early before closing because I had run out of shots and the clouds were now rolling in, as was the erratic rain. So with tired legs I packed up and headed for the way home – this time not missing that bus!

Lessons learnt

1) Never miss your bus – its always cheaper than a taxi

2) A zoo is a big place and you defiantly need to work out which animals you want to see before you go if you intend to photograph them. Even then you can’t ensure that they will be doing anything interesting at the time

3) Bars can either be a blessing or a curse – a blessing when you remember your composition and a curse when you want a “natural” looking shot

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One Response to “A day at Whipsnade Zoo”

  1. I especially like the otter photos!

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