Last year I shared a bloggers competition with you called #ShareYourOutdoors. It was bittersweet writing about places I loved to visit with Stella knowing that she didn’t have long left with me. However, it was cheering to receive the e-mail informing me that I’d been fortunate enough to claim second prize.
This was a day spent on a photography course with The Aspinall Foundation’s resident wildlife photographer, Dave Rolfe, at either Port Lympne Reserve or Howletts Wild Animal Park.
I chose Howletts as the courses take place on Sundays which suited my travel needs better.
I chose well.
No-one else arrived for the course and so I had expert tuition all to myself all day long. After a chat and a coffee, the first photo call of the day was with the Black Rhinos. We were hoping for three rather than two but baby was poorly and kept inside.
It was great to have the opportunity to get closer to the animals than usual and Dave gave good advice on camera angles and lenses. This meant I got more shots that were what I had in mind rather than hit and hope!
Next stop was the Barbary Lions…
The keeper had fun with feeding time so I could get some cool snaps. She tossed the horsemeat into the water but only the lioness was brave enough to retrieve it from there!
The lion did get some too from the grass and also enjoyed creeping up on me while I was focused elsewhere!
More big cat action when I got introduced to beautiful Siberian Tiger, Arina.
She’s slightly boss-eyed and a bit lame but is just so full of fun and affection. Dave has been around a lot of these animals since they were babies and they’re totally relaxed having him close by.
Arina in particular responds to him calling her name and would have given him a proper hug had the fence not been in the way! She’s just lovely.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t overly enthused about going to see the gorillas. How wrong I was! They are fascinating and could hold your attention for hours!
Could this be because their behaviour is the most human-like? For whatever reason, it’s hard to take your eyes off them, there’s a real community spirit in their enclosures.
The young ones run and play just like boisterous kids and the facial expressions of the older generation are very reminiscent of you or I.
The matriarch of the group fancied a bit of an eye-to-eye confrontation with the girl with the camera but I didn’t mind a bit and I’d been advised by both Dave and the keeper to keep within the glass area so I was totally safe 🙂
One of my favourite photos all day was of the silverback here. I was momentarily naughty and went outside of my designated spot but it was worth it for the eye contact. Dave agreed it wasn’t bad.
Before lunch Dave pointed out to me the rather elaborate grave of the park’s founder, John Aspinall, and also showed me one of the newer arrivals at Howletts.
The next part of the day was brilliant with even more monkey business…
I was actually invited into the Javan Langur enclosure and they didn’t seem to mind at all. There was a keeper close-by just in case they got a little too territorial during their lunchtime but the black and apricot lovelies were a pleasure to be around.
Eye-contact and facial expressions aplenty here!
By this time I was feeling very lucky indeed though at times I felt like an exhibit too!
Next on the itinerary was a ride around the deer park. For this we had use of a re-purposed milk float which was a good fun but bumpy ride.
My mission here was to capture the Blackbuck in full flight and I was chuffed to come home with a couple of shots that weren’t a complete blur!
Dave said I should have put my long lens on as they were running away from us but there was so much to see close-up too, including the Nilgai above and the magnificent stag that I didn’t want to miss anything!
Also in the paddock were Hog Deer and Axis Deer (Bambi lookalikes!), all so very lovely and obviously used to extra visitors.
I should be bringing you some superb elephant photos too, but, unfortunately, just as we arrived, the keepers had to attend to an almighty kerfuffle involving a youngster in the group. It was thought best that we didn’t get in the way so I got an early walk with Lemurs instead.
This was especially cool as I was allowed to feed them! I wasn’t expecting to be so close and this was another special moment in my day.
As well as the Black & White Ruffed, there were Crowned Lemurs. The males are the red colour and the females are the greys.
Of course, they wanted a share of the veggies too and I was happy to oblige 🙂
They’re all such super characters, loved each and every one of them.
Finishing the course early meant I could get on with with the 2 & a bit hour drive home too and not be back too late. I’d booked a Travelodge nearby for the Saturday night as me and early mornings don’t really get on!
I utterly loved the whole day at Howletts and I’m chuffed to bits that I won this amazing prize.
If you love wild animals and you love photography I’d recommend one of Dave’s courses if you can afford it. He’s been around these places for so many years that he’s a most knowledgeable companion. I don’t think I stopped smiling!
Don’t ask me to choose a favourite moment, I just couldn’t. But, would you have a favourite animal you’d like to get closer to?