I recently visited Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands on the hunt for Barbary ground squirrels - or "chipmunks" as they are known to the tourists. Squirrels and other small mammals are favourites of mine as if you can get up close with a wide angle lens, you can create some pretty awesome images with dramatic backgrounds. When I was studying wildlife photography at university, we were known by the rest of the photographers as "squirrel snappers", but little did I know at the time, that this would become a speciality of mine! The Barbary ground squirrels are non-native to Furteventura, and as their name suggests, come from the Barbary coast of Africa, but they've invaded and have completely colonised the island, from its coastal lowlands up to its highest volcanic peaks.
After picking up the car and checking in at the hotel, I hit the tourist trail, as I thought that scenic viewpoints might be a good place to start - any place where bus loads of tourists stop to eat their sandwiches is bound to attract plenty of wildlife looking for an easy meal and viewpoints are usually pretty good for an impressive backdrop. It wasn't long before I found my first squirrel, so I framed up a shot using the natural forms of the landscape to draw the eye to where I was hoping the squirrel would come and pose and waited with a remote trigger for it to appear.
As you can see from the phone snaps above, the wildlife on Fuerteventura is pretty bold - the centre pic is me feeding a wild raven, which I found out from a tour bus driver was known locally as "Geronimo". He was one hell of a charismatic bird and I came back to photograph him a couple of times. In fact, hanging out with Geronimo was probably one of my top wildlife experiences ever - you could literally shout Geronimo into the valley and before long, he'd appear and swoop in to land next to you.
This was my favourite image of Geronimo from the trip - I had to drag a boulder about half a kilometre as there were no nice looking natural perches, but it was worth it to capture a portrait of him standing proudly in front of his valley. I used my travel tripod - a Manfrotto 190 cxpro4, a Nikon D800, an off-camera SB-700 and Pocket Wizard +3s to trigger the camera remotely.
I spent the next few days hanging around coastal resorts and beaches as I wanted to make some storytelling images of the squirrels in context with people and the human environment in the background. They were most active around lunch-time and it's normally not advised to shoot in bright sunshine in the heat of the day, but I turned the conditions to my advantage, by underexposing and using fill-flash to light the underside of the squirrels. By balancing the squirrel with the bright sunshine beating down on the ground, you can make the sky look extra rich and punchy.
You can see the rest of my "chipmunk" pictures in the BARBARIAN gallery I have just put up. I spent the rest of the trip recceing some locations and researching some cool conservation stories - I'm hoping to come back to Fuerteventura in the future to document the Egyptian vulture and turtle reintroductions (below). I had a great time on Fuerteventura - there is some stunning scenery and I'd recommend hiring a car so you can really explore the whole island as there are some amazing beaches and unexpected gems to discover, particularly in the south of the island.