Southerndown and Kenfig: A Defining Philosophy

A very cold day spent in the main hide at Kenfig produced a couple of interesting images that perhaps express my philosophy regarding the photography of birds.

I’m not interested in chasing species and adding ‘ticks’ – If they happen along then that’s fine and I’m not going to pass on the chance, but in no way will I travel large distances to seek out a new species that I’ve not photographed before.

At Kenfig the pool was completely frozen over, some lads  were actually chancing their luck on the ice and it was very quiet on the bird front. I stayed all day from 8.30 to 3.30 and photographed just two species; a Bittern and a Magpie. The bittern showed late in the afternoon and very briefly. The conditions of a bright blue sky and the sun in the right position made for a good series of flight shots and it was exhilarating to see the bird and photograph it, locally, after many hours of watching and waiting, without success, at reserves such as Minsmere and Leighton Moss.

However, and this is were my philosophy of photographing birds is highlighted, it’s the shot of the magpie that gives me greater satisfaction. It’s a much maligned bird and very common and often an unwelcome visitor to feeding stations. But it’s stunning and in certain conditions the fine colour of its plumage is shown off to its best. The shot here, as it takes a grape that had been thrown onto the ice of the pool, really begins to show this bird for what it is. The frozen ice of the pool helps the image and it’s not often seen against sure a clean and pure  background. Its scavenging nature is emphasized by the grape and the light has brought out the sometimes hidden iridescence of the tail feathers. A shutter speed of 1/500th second is just enough to hold the main body sharp whilst giving the wings the chance to blur slightly so giving a sense of movement. It’s the combination of all these elements that help make this an eloquent image and it also has just a touch of Audubon about it.

I would rather a fine photograph of a common bird than an average shot of a rare bird. I can see the value for recording purposes of the latter, but it’s not what were I sit and the quest to produce eloquent images of our more common species remains my aim. It’s why I’m in the process of setting up a couple more hides at Home Farm. I don’t envisage attracting any rarities to the new feeding stations but I hope to control the environment in such a way to produce stronger images than those I already have of a wide range of species.

The image of the squabbling Song Thrushes exhibits the same philosophy. This was taken, along with the Rock Pipit and Snow Bunting at Southerndown.

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