Articles Features & Opinion

Urban wildlife watching and photography

urban wildlife ian wade

Ian Wade is an urban wildlife photographer. In this article, Ian showcases his top five species for those starting out photographing urban wildlife…

I have always enjoyed watching and photographing urban wildlife on my doorstep in Bristol. I used to travel great distances to watch and photograph wildlife until an encounter with an urban fox. After that magical experience, I travelled less into the countryside and focused my attention on urban wildlife instead; there are so many species you can enjoy watching in the city some of which you wouldn’t expect!

Over my 10 years of urban photography and wildlife watching I’ve encountered a vast array of wildlife, below are 5 different species you’ll be able to enjoy without too much effort…

  1. Urban toads

Number one on my list is the much-overlooked common toad (Bufo bufo).

If you head to a local pond under the cover of darkness between February and March when the temperature is above 7 degrees and there’s moisture in the air, you’re more than likely to encounter a common toad or two. These beautiful amphibians head back to their ancestral ponds to spawn and some have taken long and often dangerous journeys.

Take a torch and shine it on the ground to ensure that you don’t stand on them, scan the water to spot them patiently waiting to spawn. (Always be careful when near water especially at night). When photographing them, try a long exposure and a flash to make the subject stand out from the dark background, the long exposure will bring out the colours in the background and sky.

Common toad making its way through a Bristol allotment to reach a nearby pond to spawn. Credit Ian Wade.

  1. Urban foxes.

Number two on my list are foxes (Vulpes vuples).

Foxes are intelligent, beautiful, adaptable and often misunderstood by the world at large. If you live in a town or city the chances are you have already had an encounter with them.

My top tip is to use your nose to smell them. As you will likely know, foxes scent a strong musky smell, which can be quite horrible. Try heading out just after dark or just before sunrise and you should be able to spot this cunning animal sneaking about in the shadows looking for a free meal!

Tip on photographing foxes: when you spot a fox make a note of the time and location and head back again, keep hidden and wear dark clothes. If the fox is there, let it approach you. If your encounter is taking place at night and you have your camera try using the flash. A gorilla grip tripod is handy as it can be set up low to the ground making the images more engaging.

Urban fox high on a post box in Bristol. Credit: Ian Wade.

  1. Snails

Common garden snails (Cornu aspersum) are a great subject to photograph. Slow moving they will hang around.

Again you can use a long exposure to capture some interesting effects. The negative side of photographing snails in a public setting is that people will think you’re crazy! So I tend to find a quiet spot in the city where I can be left in peace.

Photography tip – get down to the snail level and you will show a snails eye view!

Common garden illuminated under a street light in Stokes Croft in Bristol. Credit: Ian Wade.

  1. Grey squirrels

It’s easy to find a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in any city and great fun to watch and photograph. They move faster than snails so you need your wits about you to capture them on your camera!

I prefer to use wide-angle lenses with these cheeky mammals, as capturing them with their environment, creates an interesting image and puts them in an urban context. I spent many hours photographing grey squirrels at Brandon Hill Nature Reserve and this improved my wildlife photography greatly.

Top tip is to bring some monkey nuts, squirrels love these and you’ll have them queuing up for the picture.

One of the many grey squirrels of Brandon Hill Nature reserve. Credit: Ian Wade.

  1. Herrings gulls

Again every city has an abundance of herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) . Often overlooked as they are so common, they make a great subject to photograph and watch. Try a longer exposure to create an interesting image or detailed portrait. I enjoy watching these birds when someone throws a piece of bread into the water, they hastily rush and fight to be the first to obtain the prize.

One of Bristol’s more vocal animals. Love or hate their call it can be heard throughout the United Kingdom. Credit: Ian Wade.

If you haven’t enjoyed watching or photographing urban wildlife give it a try and see how much enjoyment it can bring into your life!

Header Image Credit: Ian Wade

About the Author: Ian Wade is an urban wildlife photographer and author, based in Bristol. You can find out more about Ian and his photography via his website –