If you want know at least one thing that puzzles a stoat, it’s a photographer hiding above it in a tree. I was in a very large old pine tree this morning waiting for something that was entirely non stoat-related. But after half an hour or so, I noticed a flicker of brown fur flitting between the remains of a stone wall that passed below the branches of my perch. The stoat could see me, but wasn’t quite sure what ‘me’ actually was. So it would move from stone to stone, pausing to have another look up in an attempt to figure me out. At one point, a dog came over to the tree and came within a metre of the stoat without spotting it – the stoat made no attempt to hide. The dog (a sort of sheepdog/bit-of-everything mix) didn’t spot me either – it would have been a different story with a Jack Russell. After the dog had moved on, the stoat did a bit more peering up at me before returning to its journey along the old stone wall.
As it happened, I had the ideal camera/lens combination to photograph the stoat this morning. The camera (a Canon 5D Mk3) has a silent mode so the camera made very little noise as I took the pictures. The lens was a 70-200 zoom (a Canon F4 70-200L) – it provided enough magnification and focused quickly in the dull light. I own a bigger zoom (the Canon 100-400mm L zoom) but it is slower and heavier (it is also much older). I had preset the camera to ISO1600 and the shutter speed to 1/640th of a second. It is possible to get a reasonably decent image with a high ISO setting in dull light with a Canon 5D Mk3, thanks to the large sensor. My other camera is a Canon 7D Mk 1 (which uses older technology) and the images taken with a high ISO (i.e. anything over ISO 800) are not great if you need to to zoom into the image (see below). Even though the stoat was only visible for about 90 seconds, and was moving quickly from hiding place to hiding place for most of that time, I’m happy enough with the resulting images. The thing about taking pictures from a tree is that the technical settings need to be second-nature, so that you can concentrate on getting a pleasing composition as well as not falling out of the tree.
Stoats are very small – this one was probably about 30cm/11 inches long. The picture above is a screenshot from Lightroom (which is my digital image editor). It shows the original photo as I took it, and the small, gridded box in the middle is the cropped image that I used for the image at the top of the post. As you can see, it is only a small percentage of the original picture. Thus, if the original is not of high quality, the cropped (or zoomed-in) picture looks blurry or grainy.
And what was I doing in a pine tree on a bright Sunday morning? Well, that’s another story…