Tuesday 3rd Feb 2009
A good covering of snow at the farm today gave a chance of some different shots. It’s the first significant snow of the winter and for a while was heavy enough to cause disruption on the roads.
Going up to Liverpool to see family over Christmas always offers the chance to visit the Lancashire mosses. Phil and I managed a couple of afternoons on this occasion. The expectation is always as enjoyable as the event. Having a few hours ahead of you not knowing what may turn up is as good as it gets. I remember in my teens cycling out on weekends to these flat expanses and although they have changed since those days they still offer a good days birding.
Sometimes you get what you don’t necessarily expect. On New Years Eve, whilst having a cup of tea at my mums, a Wood Mouse leaped from the ivy on to one of the feeders. A moment of wondering whether or not to extract, and it feels like that at times, the camera and 500mm lens from the rucksack, or simply watch and enjoy the spectacle followed. You really know what the outcome of such wonderings will be!
Between Christmas and New Year we had, at last, a couple of bright days. December being one of the dullest on record. At the farm it was a chance for the buzzards to use the thermals. They would welcome this opportunity to use these currents for a spot of static soaring as the energy they save whilst hunting in this way is substantial. A Buzzard will reduce its energy consumption by as much as three quarters by soaring rather than conventional flying using flapping flight.
The sun shone on Christmas Day and raised cheers in our house. It has been particularly dull over the last few weeks, not much rain but just those drab flat days that close in a good hour before the official lighting up time. Boxing Day dawned without a cloud in the sky and saw me heading off to the farm.
I had been watching the BBC weather forecasts for a few days before deciding on which day it would be best to pick my daughter up from Aberystwyth University. The plan was to meet her late on in the day after I had managed a few hours photography on the way at Nant y Arian, about ten miles east on the A44. I was then due to drop into the town and photograph the Starling roost at the pier. With a setting sun over Cardigan Bay it would all be set for a well planned and organised days shoot.
I’ve been thinking about this hide for a while. It’s under the old railway bridge but will give decent views down the Ely towards the sharp bend in the river. On approaching this spot over the last year it has yielded some good sights of Dipper, Green Sandpiper and Goosanders, which haven’t yet returned to the river this winter. It’s also a regular flight path for the resident Kingfishers. Hopefully, unlike the temporary hide we built earlier on in the year , it will be a little more permanent!
We decided to spend our last day at Pensthorpe near Fakenham. An interesting choice and one governed by a number of factors, not least of which it being a convenient place to have a hire car delivered! We had traveled from South Wales together in the same car, it gives a chance to catch up and plan the days ahead and have a laugh and joke, as brothers will! Traveling over night, as we always do, alleviates the traffic, although I was amazed at how busy the M25 is at 4.00am! On the way back we were going our separate ways, Phil back to Barrow and me to Llantrisant. Pensthorpe would also give the opportunity of working with some British birds in the aviaries at the reserve.
Our two proposed sites today were Salthouse and Cley, one area really but there are hides at Cley whereas Salthouse is an area of shingle, with a carpark at the bottom of a short dead end. There is always a chance of Snow Buntings at Salthouse and Cley can offer much at all times of the year. The morning was a little brighter than we expected, but it soon deteriorated and the afternoon saw a low mist engulf the reserve.
This was a difficult day by any standards. It was forecast for heavy rain and high winds and for once they got it right! We had planned to spend the day at Titchwell, getting to one of the hides and remaining there all day. It’s the way I prefer to work. Setting up camp with a couple of cameras and beanbags and waiting to see what comes by.
I spent the last few days in Norfolk with my brother Phil. It was very dull, weather wise, but I firmly believe there is no poor light for photography, just different light. Whatever you are faced with you make it work and after you’ve traveled overnight from South Wales, some 280 miles or so, you are pretty determined to get something out of it. We journeyed through the night to gain a full day and at this time of the year the usable natural light has all but gone by 4.00pm, so you have a long evening to recuperate.
I was down at Cosmeston yesterday to try and photograph the Bearded Tit that has been around for a couple of weeks. It’s a bird that has eluded me over the years and I have only managed glimpses of it at Leighton Moss before today. Met some folks down there looking for the same and spent an enjoyable few hours on the boardwalk hoping for lots of elements to come together.
There’s a lamp post in the middle of the central reservation of the M4 motorway, just past Port Talbot, that is eagerly anticipated by all the family when we travel west. It’s number 386 and more times than not ‘our’ Cormorant is sitting on the top of it. A gentle fist clenching and a slight punch of the air, with a somewhat muted cheer is given in response.
Typically, after questioning the whereabouts of the female Great-spotted Woodpecker, she arrived over the weekend! Again, not as frequently as the male, but she was in. In fact on one occasion three ‘peckers’ were down in the feeding station all together, two males and the female. One of the males spent a good deal of time chasing the female around. I have smeared some feed on one of the trees that they have been using as a staging post before coming on to the feeders, with the idea of holding them there for a little while, giving a longer time to photograph them. I would focus on one of the birds if they landed on that particular tree and hope that the other may come in and begin the chase from there. As soon as any movement occurred I would press the shutter and hope! Lots of nothing but if you stick at it you may be lucky.
I have recently been preparing a couple of logs that I had found around the ponds, for feeding. I chiseled out about an inch deep trench in the log at three separate places, so that I could stuff food into the crevices in such a way that they would not be visible when birds landed on them.
Laggan had broken his wing, possibly by flying into a telegraph wire, and is now being looked after at Wings Over Mull, a bird of prey conservation centre that we visit on the Orangepebble Photography tours. To get this close to such a magnificent bird is something unlikely to happen in the wild. These are birds of vast spaces, occupying the high mountains and crags of Scotland. We have seen them often in the wild, had wonderful encounters in Sutherland, Argyle and Mull and occasionally photographed them. The Golden Eagle remains, for me, the ultimate bird.
Again a very drab day and a persistent drizzle. Two male Great-spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other round the higher branches and the Treecreeper was in a fair amount today. Looking through the Home Farm files it’s interesting to note that out of 40 or so images filed under Great-spotted Woodpecker, only one of those is a female! Where then are the they?
I was at the feeding station today and all the regulars were present. On the way to the hide a Peregrine flew over, the fourth record for the Farm. The water level has dropped allowing the route through the river to be taken. Over the last few weeks the only way to the hide has been over the railway. The cows are all in for the winter now, so no chance of an unpleasant encounter! Last year Richard was unceremoniously dumped into the river as he tried to pass them under the bridge. They were a little frisky early on in the year but had settled down latterly.
I am often asked if there is any occasion when I have felt under pressure when taking photographs of birds. On the whole I am fairly sanguine over what you get and what you miss, it’s part of the deal with this sort of photography, but there is a particular moment that comes to mind when I felt if I didn’t manage to secure a decent shot from this then I might as well give up.