What a day!!!

I bought my ‘little’ cousin (13yrs old, not so little any more) a ‘Meet the Giraffes’ experience at ZSL for Christmas and we booked to go this half term (whilst I cringed at the thought of thousands of off-school kids screaming around the place). I haven’t been to London Zoo in AGES, which is criminal really because I became a member so that I would go more often… that will change!

I was surprisingly impressed with the upkeep of the place and the helpful and knowledgeable staff, contrary to some reviews i’d seen on Facebook etc. Zoos in general are funny old places – the morality of zoos is another discussion for another time, but I didn’t see any animals which looked bored or distressed – they all seemed quite content.

In another life, another career path, I should have studied Zoology (and i’m planning to do an online course as soon as I get some time) and I still would really love to do something physically working with/helping animals. In the meantime, I shall continue to draw/sculpt them and learn as much as I can…

It was the first time using my new lens (Canon EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM) which i’d bought specifically for photographing animals. It’s a pretty ‘entry level’ telephoto from what I understand, but after reading numerous reviews and seeing photos taken with it, I was sold. The price on Amazon kept fluctuating so I had to wait until it went back down to a good price again! It’s a pleasantly light lens in comparison to my others, which made it great to have around my neck all day without (too much) aching.

Looking through the photos from the trip (both on my phone and camera), it was really interesting to observe the differences – there were some technically ‘good’ photos which were sharp in all the right places, decent composition etc… and then others which were ‘terrible’ photos in a technical sense, but might have shown a great expression or movement of the animal – they may have been blurry and not a good photo for photo’s sake, but an excellent art reference to keep. I think it’s about finding the value in what you’ve captured rather than dismissing blurry shots as rubbish photos – i’ll be keeping them this time and referring to them next time I come to draw big cats or birds of prey!

We arrived when the zoo opened around 10.30am and the first thing we saw was a beautiful hawk… eating his breakfast. Which was unfortunately a mouse. He must have only just been fed because it was a whole mouse to begin with… It was one of the most horrific things i’ve seen but it was also quite amazing to witness the bird of prey in action. I know everything has to feed (circle of life and all that) but I think sometimes you can’t help but feel sad when you see it happening.

Hawk at ZSL London Zoo

This was one the first photos I took with the Canon 55-250mm lens – from quite far away! It took me a little while to get reacquainted with focusing properly (bit rusty with eh manual focus from not having used a camera in so long). I was impressed with the level of detail it captured – more than adequate for what I wanted it for, which is to capture good reference photos

WARNING: Somewhat graphic content below! Scroll down quickly if you’d rather not see a mouse carcass being torn apart 🙁 These were the tamest of the lot, i’m afraid, before he’d properly ripped it open… I chose not to upload the super graphic ones, no one needs to see closeups of a mouse’s insides. On the outside. Bleurgh.

After breakfast, he cleaned the blood off his beak by wiping it on the bushes (which I though was clever, albeit a bit grim) and then perched with his mate, observing the crowds which had now gathered.

One of the first shots trying out the Canon 55-250mm lens – this was a full frame (i’ve cropped it only slightly to remove some excess background) and I was pretty far away at this point – the birds were perched on a branch at the back of the enclosure.

Penguin Beach – gotta love penguins. So awkward with their waddling on land, then as graceful as dancers in the water.

Butterfly zone – I switched to my 100mm macro lens for the butterfly tent, and got some nice-ish shots. I’m always fascinated zooming into macro photos, seeing all the details you just can’t appreciate with the human eye.

I’d heard about it, but not actually been to Tiger Territory since it’s been built – it seemed nice enough, with room to roam and hide in the bushes if they needed. There were two tiger cubs and their parents – the cubs were very big but still had that kitten-esque playfulness, which was lovely to watch. The photos came out pretty clear, considering I was shooting through thick glass!

I believe this was the adult male, waiting to be fed in the indoors part of the enclosure – it was a bit tricky getting a photo in here as I was behind about a million small lively children jumping about, and we moved over to the outside part where we could see the cubs playing.

Fortunately for me the glass was there, or i’d have called him over for a cuddle and that might not have ended too well. What a gorgeous boy!

My cat sits like this, head slightly tilted in an inquisitive and playful manner

Komodo dragons – again, this was shot through thick glass from quite a way away. The close up shot is pretty good I think for an ‘average’ lens!

Reptile house – I do love reptiles. Their shapes and textures are fascinating.

This croc was very obliging, sitting with his mouth open for me.

I tried to make an effort to take reference shots of textures etc. The back of this croc was so beautiful!

Just chillin’

Axolotls – i’m OBSESSED. What incredible creatures! I’d seen photos of them and was aware of them (more the leucistic pink ones) but never actually seen them in real life. The way they move!!! I spent a long time admiring these guys until my cousin managed to make me move on…

Unfortunately I couldn’t quite capture these guys in a good image – SUCH fascinating creatures!!! They really look like something from a fantasy or sci-fi film.

When we arrived for the Meet the Giraffes experience, we were a little early and sat in with the crowd in admiration – giraffes are, as I have always thought, incredibly beautiful creatures. Majestic and massive and, turns out, extremely gentle. Some little phone snaps below…

The keeper said that they’re around 6ft tall when they’re born…

Bad photo, but gives an idea of what we were looking up at!

Photo snapped by my super cool cousin – this is me feeding a giraffe for the first time! What a magical moment – they are HUGE. And they look at you with their huge eyes and long eyelashes in such a moment of trust. I got very emotional hahaha…

The giraffes are really gentle – they have long prehensile black tongues which they wrap around the food and pull into their mouths. Got covered in quite a lot saliva, but didn’t mind one bit 🙂

The giraffes were licking the metal posts on the wall, which the keeper explained was due to the salt content from condensation from rainwater.

I was very excited to discover the walk-through Lemur enclosure, where the lemurs are just roaming around freely along the walkways – they were very relaxed around people (guess that what happens when they’re around them all day) – it felt like a real privilege to be able to be so close observing them.

Lemur looking at my cousin as he started filming him with a GoPro

This was another shot from far away on the ground looking up into the roof area. Again, impressed with the level of detail on the Canon 55-250mm from such a distance! Minimal cropping on this image.

The Nocturnal zone – I love love LOVE slow loris and it was incredible to see one in person (using the word ‘see’ very loosely, as it was verrrry dark) – the bushbaby was probably also one of the cutest things i’ve ever seen in my life. Like a small kitten-monkey with huge eyes, which happens to be similar to a creature i’ve been designing for a personal project (watch this space). No good photos unfortunately, but it was lovely to just watch them.

We then went through the rainforest zone, in which it took us a little while to spot the monkeys…

So tiny and cute!

Sloth eating some fruit

I absolutely love this photo – seems to have captured a fleeting tender moment mid-grooming, looking like a couple in love <3

The hawk again… Couldn’t resist snapping a few more pics (particularly now that there wasn’t a mouse being eaten)

I didn’t get many good photos in the aquarium – love the lion fish though, what an amazing looking fish!

Lion fish close up

We managed to get to Land of the Lions about five minutes before closing time, so there was NO ONE around! 🙂 The lions were very peaceful and as gorgeous as ever. I could watch big cats all day.

ZSL London Zoo trip Land of the Lions

This llama was hilarious – we were reading the signage saying along the lines of ‘these are proud creatures’ – and just as we were discussing what that could mean, this one trotted over to us and stood up on a little perch and posed in a really regal way for a good few minutes before getting down and walking off.

Overall we had a marvellous trip and I won’t forget the experience of feeding the gentle giraffe giants. I can’t wait to go back to the zoo, probably next week, and this time sit and draw.

 

Camera equipment used:

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24 January 2017

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