Wildlife from the Beaufortain Area in the French Alps
We decided to create a series of photos of wildlife from the French Alps. To get to know the area, we enrolled in a wildlife photography safari organized by the photographer Gerard David. Another photographer, Philippe Rigolio, was our guide during the six-day trip. It is always very interesting to be accompanied by a guide in an area that we don’t know. We did not have to go hunting for sites where we could photograph various animals. Philippe knew the region well. He was a valuable guide, having worked in the region for more than twenty years. On the safari, we were accompanied by André Callewaert, a friend and fellow photographer.
We stayed in the village of Hauteluce in the Savoy department in the French Alps. Our goal was to bring back about thirty photographs of various animals. The trip only lasted six days, so we set our sights fairly low. We decided to come back in September and continue the series.
The first two days of the safari were spent reconnoitering photo sites. Philippe showed us a site for photographing birds, another for groundhogs, one for European badgers, and a huge glade where we could find foxes and deer. This phase was essential because the region is large and forested. When we came to the site of a European badger’s burrow, Philippe asked us what we saw. We were on a road through a grove of trees. We looked around, but saw nothing unusual. Then Philippe pointed out a small mound of dead wood. He explained that it was the entrance to a badger’s burrow. We could have stayed there for an hour and never guessed that an animal was hiding there. Once again we saw how helpful a guide can be in unfamiliar areas. During the reconnaissance, Philippe and Gerard explained the techniques of camouflage. We had brought our camouflage nets. Philippe lent us some gear that we had not brought because of the limited space in our luggage.
After the reconnaissance, it was time for some photography. We decided to start by photographing the groundhogs. They are not very shy, and are easy to approach. It was an excellent place to start. Our cameras were equipped with 200-400mm lenses. It was 8 o'clock in the morning. The sun had just risen and groundhogs began coming out to warm themselves at the entrances to their burrows. We chose a burrow with a female and her two pups sunning themselves at the entrance. It was a good thing that we were equipped with 200-400mm lenses, because the animals were cautious. When we came forward a yard, they backed up a yard. We moved forward slowly, on hands and knees. Our cameras were mounted on monopods. Gradually, the female groundhog got used to us and stopped moving away as steadily. After an hour of this little game, we were less than 5 yards from them, and we could finally start taking good pictures. At the end of the morning, we had taken enough pictures of the groundhogs, and we returned to the village for lunch.
For our second outing, we decided to photograph badgers. We had never seen a live badger before, even though they are quite common. We had only seen pictures of them in books. It was 5:30PM, and we set our gear up 10 yards from the entrance to the burrow. The cameras were still equipped with the 200-400mm lenses, and they were mounted on tripods for more stability. We were virtually invisible, hidden with André under our camouflage net at the foot of a huge tree. We waited for three hours, and nothing happened. We heard all sorts of forest noises, but saw nothing. We sat down after a while, and we began to get cold because the sun did not penetrate the foliage. It was 8:25 p.m. André signed to us that he wanted to leave. We asked him to stay for another 15 minutes. At 8:30, we saw a badger stick its head out of the burrow. Badgers may be common and well-known, but we were as excited as if they were the rarest animal alive. The cameras were set in burst mode. They crackled as we took our photos. We were very excited, and we made a little too much noise. The badger turned his head in our direction. We were perfectly hidden and he could not see us, but he decided not to risk coming out all the way. He returned to his burrow. We kept watching the entrance. We waited. The light was getting low. In 15 minutes it would be dark. Would the badger come out again? 5 more minutes passed. Suddenly, the badger’s head emerged from the burrow again. That time, we waited him to be completely out before we started taking pictures. We got pictures of the badger’s whole body before he walked into the forest for the night. We only had a dozen photos, but we were satisfied.
We returned to our lodging around 9:30PM. We were very happy. We had a hard time believing that we had seen and photographed a European badger. It was as if we had made the wildlife find of the century. We were cold and sore, but happy and full of adrenaline.