Shad shoots a charity gig

As you know, John and I have a strong affinity for nature and we support animal welfare charities in as many ways as we can, but this time it was the animal supporting a human cause in my role as official photographer for the Saga Louts.  Please note that although I have just referred to myself as an animal, it’s on the understanding that I meant it in the most sophisticated sense!  Regular readers will be familiar with the Saga Louts, a motley crew of middle-aged crooners who love music and happily give their time to worthy causes like the Ocean Youth Trust South (OYTS).

 

The OYTS works in partnership with other organisations like youth clubs, schools and social work teams to identify young people, many of whom will be disadvantaged or vulnerable in some way, and offer them a unique opportunity for personal growth.  It involves being part of a crew that sails a 72-foot long yacht across the seas for a few days and extends a long-term programme of work to participants, ensuring lessons are learned and achievements are celebrated.  The youngsters (aged between 12 and 25 years) include children who have been bullied or bereaved, young carers, victims of crime, those with family situations affected by substance abuse, or those who simply wish to broaden their experience and face new challenges.

 

I’m no expert but I have eyes and I see a desperate need in many young people these days to learn essential life skills such as cooking, confidence, coping with unfamiliar situations, learning to communicate with others and dealing with conflict so that they can lead a more healthy and constructive existence.  I can only imagine the joy and the trials faced by the staff and volunteers who organise and facilitate these adventures so hat’s off to them for making a difference to all those children’s lives.

 

 

The venue was the Fareham Sailing and Motorboat Club at the back of Portsmouth Harbour looking out on to the Solent.  The Club’s history dates back to the 1800’s when ladies and gentlemen took to the water in leisure sailing craft and rowing boats.  These days the clubhouse has space for cruising yachts and motor boats, and room in the workshop for a band and a bunch of enthusiastic ladies doing their version of a handbag-shuffle!  It was great to see these lovely ladies shimmy the night away while the Creekers played folk music and shanty songs in their top-hats and waist-coats.  They were followed by the Saga Louts playing their crazy mix of punk, rock and 80’s dance.  The gig was held as part of an Ocean Youth Trust South campaign to raise funds to buy a new boat so they can continue the remarkable and life-changing work they do.  Sounds like a great excuse to get stuck into the BBQ.  Get your wallet out John, I’m buying burgers to raise money for a good cause.  Well the photographer needs to keep his strength up you know!

Shad Interviews John

I recently decided it was time to put Mr John Jefferies on the couch, under the spotlight, if you like.  Let’s find out a bit more about the mastermind behind Shadow Photography, and ask John a few questions too!

 

  1. What’s it like to live with a cat like me?

Its challenging, but they say creative types can be eccentric and you certainly have your idiosyncrasies!!

A little cheeky, but I can’t deny it!!

  1. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Two brothers, both younger than me

                Colin is a lead singer in a band called the Saga Louts

                Paul is married and emigrated to Perth in Australia

 

  1. Have you always been a photographer?

I’ve always enjoyed photography and have owned a camera since my first home-made pin-hole camera at the age of 10.  Over the years it has been a hobby and my main job involved working in the airline industry.  However, in recent years photography has become a real passion and is now my second job.

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  1. What’s your favourite thing to photograph?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite subject to shoot, however I enjoy wildlife and the challenge that taking pictures of animals brings.  They don’t pose for you and they always look away at the wrong moment, but with patience and a bit of luck, the results can be very rewarding.  I also love to work with people, watching them enjoy each other’s company and knowing that the special moments they share can be captured on film to be remembered forever.

 

  1. Where is your favourite place to relax?

I love sitting on a beach watching the sunset, listening to the calm sway of the waves and breathing the salty air, enjoying the peace and quiet.

  1. Which picture are you most proud of?

Good question.  I have many big cat pictures that I love and some lovely landscapes hanging in my wall-gallery.  I think my proudest moment is my first wedding as the primary shooter where I had all the responsibility of getting the wedding photos and albums together and seeing the smile on the bride’s face when she saw the finished product.

Oh so nothing with me in it then?!

  1. Are you inspired by any other photographers or famous icons?

There are a quite few photographers from history like Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson that I admire.  I have also learned a great deal from more modern photographers like Ted Forbes and Zack Arias. In terms of artists, I enjoy the work of Monet and De Vinci.  I also have the greatest respect for humanitarians like Paul Newman, the Hollywood actor who donated millions of dollars in profits to charities all over the world.

I never knew you had such a philosophical side.  It appears there’s more to you than meets the eye.

  1. What music do you like?

Rock and heavy metal are my favourite genres but I listen to anything from classical to country.  I’ve driven passengers in my car crazy crooning to the likes of Singing Doll and Yellow Submarine, as well as the deep notes of M People and Seal.  My music tastes have been described as eclectic.

John seriously, that Dolly Parton album I had to endure the other day was taking the biscuit.

  1. What’s your favourite big cat and why?

The tiger – power, agility and beauty, all in one cat

Stick a few orange stripes on me and we’d be identical!

10. Why do you like trains so much?

As a kid I loved to travel on trains and collect their numbers (and no I did not wear an anorak!).  There’s something magnificent about a steam engine though, it’s might and the way the moving parts work in synergy have always fascinated me.

I just enjoy the chuffing.

11. What 3 words would you use to describe me?

Charismatic / playful / lovable

That’s very kind.  I’d describe you as determined, compassionate and honourable.  Bet that surprised you!

12. What is the most challenging aspect of being official photographer at weddings?

Time management, making sure you get that shot but not holding up the proceedings, and being in the right place at the right time

13. Next time you have crispy duck pancakes, can you please leave a bit more for me?

Of course, I know how you like it.

Shad does the Silverstone Circuit

On Friday night, John and I sat together in front of the computer to work on some photographs, exchanging ideas about lighting and composition and clicking furiously away on the mouse.  Then the familiar ping of an email coming in on John’s phone brought an invitation to Silverstone race track, home to some of the greatest events in British motor racing such as the 2014 British Touring Cars Championship and next year’s British Grand Prix.

 

Silverstone started life as a wartime airfield until the end of the Second World War when an ex-farmer was employed by the RAC to transform the airfield and farmland into a race track.  On 2nd October 1948, 100,000 people flocked to see Luigi Villoresi in his Maserati beat 22 other drivers and mark the beginning of Silverstone’s racing history.  The circuit puts two and four wheels through their paces as drivers battle it out for the thrill of the chase and the entertainment of the crowd.

 

The drive up to the Buckinghamshire / Northamptonshire border took about 2 hours and I stayed in my basket in the car for safety reasons.  It’s so comfy in there with my blanket that I dozed off and it was a good job too because John’s friend (who had the tickets) got caught in traffic on the M1 following a dreadful pile-up.  Unfortunately he was delayed by 2 hours but when he arrived, I woke up to the roar of the engines and the purring of the crowd.  I felt a buzz in the atmosphere as the vibrations from the sounds all around me spread through my muttonchops.  We were lucky enough to have a seat in the British Racing Drivers’ Club stand, surrounded by people who have achieved success in the sport or made a significant contribution to it.  John spotted several celebrated individuals and got a close-up of Stirling Moss (not that I’m one to name-drop).


Unfortunately there was bad news on the day we were there (Sunday 27th July).  A driver named Denis Welch from Staffordshire crashed in a 1960 Lotus 18 and sadly lost his life aged 69.  Our condolences to family and friends, it’s a tragedy when an accident happens, especially when it ends in a fatality.

On a brighter note though, the blazing sunshine, the slick racing tyres and good-looking smiley people parading around near the track kept the crowds happy and the tarmac hot. There were a great many Grand Prix cars on display as you can see from the pictures, including several pre-WW2 machines, a collection of Maseratis, some rarely seen motorcycles from the 1950s, examples of American automobiles such as the Ford Mustang, as well as Lotuses and Williams from the modern era.

Shad’s 100th blog

A whole year has gone by since I first started blogging about my escapades and I would like to thank you for your interest and support.  The dolphin sea adventure that I told you about last time was my 100th blog and I couldn’t let that go by without marking it with a few thoughts and a selection of photos that include some of my favourites as well as some of the most popular ones currently being viewed on John’s Flickr account.

www.shadow-photography.com

So that’s 100 blogs in 365 days.  Not bad for a cat who spends at least 2 hours a day licking and 14 hours a day sleeping, and who doesn’t even have opposable thumbs!  I am well looked after by John, I run my own photography business, and I get to spend time with nature and other animals, being part of something bigger than the stresses and strains of everyday life.

www.shadow-photography.com

There are still many things I would like to achieve and I suspect that I will accomplish some and not others.  But the point is, to keep trying, no matter how many obstacles hit your path.  Just like the motivational speaking cat on a certain mobile phone network’s latest advertising campaign, flip it and switch, all the negativity ditch it!  I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences with you and I hope that I have made you smile along the way.  Here’s to 100 more!!

www.shadow-photography.com

Shad meets the baby

So there I was, happily snoozing away, curled up in a ball to keep warm on this cool spring evening, when I heard John getting all excited on the phone.  His daughter Susan had finally given birth to the little bubby that was growing inside her for what seemed like an eternity.  Humans sure do need a lot of brewing, unlike us cats who only need nine weeks as opposed to nine months.

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By all accounts, the family was expecting a girl following an ultra-sound a few weeks ago, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when a boy popped out.  Susan brought young Oscar round to see us a couple of days after she came home from hospital and here are a few pictures of the little squirt to warm your cockles!

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As a cat, I’m not given to swooning over human babies, but I have to admit, this one is a cutie, even though he doesn’t have fur and whiskers.  I sniffed him and had a brief moment where I began to contemplate the meaning of life when the little rascal starting screaming.  The noise was deafening so I turned tail and trotted off to the window-sill in the other room to watch the birds in the garden.  I do love my peace and quiet.  Congratulations Susan and Scott!

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Shad gets a pair of binoculars

John bought me a zazzy pair of binoculars for my birthday this year and we decided to road-test them on Sunday with a trip to a nature reserve.  It became obvious very quickly that the strap was too long for a wearer whose neck is so close to the ground.  But the helpful staff performed a bit of nifty strap-work (despite curious glances from on-lookers) and soon I was kitted out and ready for action.  With a meow of appreciation, I trotted off down the muddy path that twisted its way through the tall trees and thick bramble to the wonders nature had in store for us that day.

Normally, John and I both have cameras and work as a team to get the best shots we can, but today I was ‘off-duty’ and determined to relax and enjoy the surroundings.  I could hear the birds singing, but they were incredibly difficult to spot, possibly because they were a little nervous about being watched by an adventurous sleek black (ever so slightly portly) cat like me!  But with my extraordinary patience and enquiring mind, I was able to spy a few good-looking birds, including Canadian geese, mallard ducks, goldfinches, greenfinches and the one I was most excited about, the great spotted woodpecker.  Ok I’ll be honest, John was much better at spotting the birds than me, by the time I got my fab new binoculars lined up to the right place, the cheeky little minxes had flown off.

While we were sitting in the hide-out watching the wading birds dipping their heads beneath the surface of the streams and marshes, the swans and black-headed gulls flew overhead and we caught sight of a small group of deer resting beneath a large leafy oak tree, probably planning their next meal or deciding on a safe place to sleep that night.  As we walked back through the woodland, panting somewhat because it was uphill, we noticed a field of cows that all had horns and I had to laugh when one of them used her horns to have a good scratch.

On the way home, we stopped at a friend’s house for refreshments and I bumped into my old mate Muffin sunning herself in the back garden.  I entertained her with tales of my adventures through the forest and the fascinating species of wildlife I had witnessed with my magnificent binoculars and she was very impressed.

Shad talks about snowy owls

The snowy owl is one of the most recognisable of owls due to its cat-like yellow eyes and unmistakeable white plumage that echoes its Arctic roots.  It’s the largest (by weight) North American owl and is a carnivore, living up to 10 years in the wild and weighing around 3 to 7 lbs (up to 3kg), with a wingspan of 4 or 5 feet (up to 1.5m).  This regal creature is diurnal which means that it is active both day and night, unlike most owls that tend to hunt solely at night.  The snowy owl is a patient hunter with keen eyesight and extraordinary hearing which enable it to identify prey under thick vegetation or snow-cover, before swooping down to deftly seize its quarry with its sharp talons.  The snowy owl’s preferred meal is lemmings (a fierce little rodent smaller than a chipmunk), consuming 3 to 5 each day, and supplementing its diet with rabbits, rodents, birds and fish.

These magnificent owls sometimes remain year-round in their northern breeding grounds, but they are frequent migrants to Canada, the northern United States, Europe, and Asia.  Unless you’re planning to visit the high arctic, you’ll mainly find them in the wild during winter in windswept fields or wide-open areas such as dunes or shorelines, perhaps around Canada or Alaska.  They like tree-less places and rolling terrain where they can find a vantage point to survey the surrounding area, seeking out a good view by perching on telephone poles, buildings, hay-bales, or fence-posts.  In summer, the snowy owl hunts lemmings and other prey in the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic Circle.  Snowy owls were known to breed on the remote islands of the Shetland Isles north of Scotland in the past, but their status in Britain is now that of a rare winter visitor to the Shetland and Outer Hebrides region.

The snowy owl’s beautiful white plumage helps it to hide in its Arctic habitat. They breed on the Arctic tundra, where females lay a clutch of 3 to 11 eggs, depending on the availability of food, and in particularly lean times they may not breed at all. Parents are territorial and brave and will defend their nests against all threats, including wolves and humans.  Only the males are completely white, often flecked with dark brown when they are chicks, they get whiter as they get older.  The females are usually darker than males or may be white with dusky spots on their wings.

I don’t think John will mind me saying that he has the entire collection of Harry Potter movies (for his grandchildren to enjoy so he claims) and I have watched them through on several occasions.  Harry’s owl Hedwig is a snowy owl and although the character is a female, she is played by male owls because their plumage is so white and they are lighter than the females and therefore easier to handle for the human actors.  Seven different owls apparently played the role of Hedwig and their names are Oops, Swoops, Oh Oh, Kasper, Gizmo, Elmo and Bandit.

Shad does the franco-english Marwell tour

Have you seen a ‘hippopotame pygmée’ or a ‘singe’ recently?  You would have, if you’d been with John and I at Marwell Wildlife Park this weekend.  Two of John’s friends were visiting from across the Channel and we decided to give them a guided tour of the wonders of the natural world at Marwell.  They came from Marseille which is the second largest city in France after Paris.  Marseille is an urban area with a large population and a rugged rocky coastal landscape, a far cry from the wooded hills and rolling countryside of Winchester where Marwell is situated.  There were 5 of us altogether, including 2 people who spoke both English and French and were able to translate, and one person who spoke French only.  John speaks a little German but that didn’t really help, and I speak cat which I consider a universal language, but that didn’t help much either!!

Have you worked out those French words yet?  The first one is pygmy hippopotamus, and we were lucky enough to get a clear view of a mother with her little female calf who was born on 13th December 2013.  The baby is part of the European Endangered Breeding Programme and is called Gloria, a name chosen by patrons of the zoo and members of the public following an online vote.  ‘Singe’ (pronounced ‘sairnge’) is French for monkey, and there was plenty of monkeying around as we watched the Colobus monkeys strike a pose for the camera and swing across the branches with their long arms and tails.

There was much guffawing at the giraffe area because these tall elegant creatures with big beautiful eyes looked so demure, but when they munched on their dinners, the prolonged chewing action combined with large elf-like ears made an amusing sight.  I held my tail high as a friendly greeting and made chirrup noises to communicate my appreciation of their awesomeness, but I’m small compared to them and I don’t think they saw me.

Unlike the big cats, which spotted me instantly, may be because they smelt me coming.  Not that I have some sort of body odour problem I hasten to add, but more due to the feline ability to convey identity and mood through scent.  Marwell has taken in a new male Amur tiger called Bagai who is 17 months old and is settling into his new environment before being introduced to Milla, a female Amur tiger.  It is hoped that they will produce offspring to help save this highly endangered species which is on the brink of extinction.  Shockingly, the evil poachers continue to trap and kill these magnificent beasts along with many other animals who now struggle to survive in their native environments.  My thanks go to the conservationists across the world and animal welfare groups such as PETA, IFAW and the WSPCA for their efforts in promoting the wellbeing of animals and giving them a voice.

2013 was a busy year for the keepers at Marwell who also welcomed a giant anteater baby born in November.  Little Rojo seemed content and was fully occupied when we saw him in his enclosure with his mum,  digging at a branch with his long fore-claws, looking for insects.  These curious looking creatures are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the wild and have thick necks and a tubular snout which ends in a tiny mouth opening and nostrils.  They apparently have poor eyesight but a sense of smell 40 times more sensitive than that of humans.

John’s French friends were visibly impressed at how well the animals were cared for and how keen the Brits are to keep animals as happy and healthy as possible.  They went home with lots of photos and good memories from their trip to the zoo, and I improved my language skills and did my bit for anglo-french relations.  So au revoir, c’est la vie and bon voyage!

Shad talks about Snow Leopards

Taking photos of wildlife is one of my favourite things to do, and I can often be found lurking outside enclosures at zoos and animal sanctuaries, waiting for the perfect shot.  It requires a calm demeanour, patience and a steady paw to trigger that shutter at precisely the right moment!  I particularly enjoy taking pictures of big cats because they’re part of my extensive feline family and I’m fascinated by the similarity of their mannerisms to mine.

I’ve spent many happy hours watching the snow leopards at Marwell in Hampshire yawning, stretching, playing and grooming.  However, like most cats, they spend an enormous amount of time snoozing, hence the need for patience and stealth when trying to capture an exciting moment.  Like the time I caught on camera the snow leopard cubs born in April 2013 as they took their first steps outside of their den close to proud parents Irina (mum) and Indeever (dad).

Unfortunately, these magnificent creatures are in trouble, and only humans can help.  It saddens me to say that the World Wildlife Fund estimate there are only 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left alive today in the wild and numbers are dwindling as a result of poaching, hunting, climate change, and loss of habitat and natural prey.  However, an international forum was established last year to outline urgent actions and a global strategy to conserve these rare animals and you can read more about that in an article I found in the South China Morning Post this week.

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1336567/dont-let-snow-leopard-become-mere-memory

I love the idea of humans from different countries working together to protect the snow leopards and I have no doubt that their combined efforts will have other positive consequences such as preserving biodiversity, protecting other endangered species, supporting rural development and managing wildlife honourably.


Did you know that snow leopards hiss, meow and growl but don’t roar like other big cats?  They live in the cold high mountains across Europe and Central Asia in countries such as Afghanistan, China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their white-grey coats help them blend in with the steep rocky terrain and their long tails and powerful builds provide balance and help them stay warm.