I slipped out of bed 10 minutes before the alarm was due to sound. I must have some kind of built in biological clock as I inevitably wake just before the set alarm time. A hint of the approaching early morning light could be seen as I finish a cup of tea and headed out along the local coast to look for skylarks. For me timing is all when it comes to photographing skylarks which is mainly dictated by their use of the local sites along the coastal fringe and dunes.
Firstly I always head out for them in March as their ascending song flights provides a reminder that Spring has arrived, even if the low temperatures are not very convincing. The main reason for choosing March is the vegetation is short and the photographic prospects for a bird that spends most of its time foraging around in grass are improved. The next essential part of the timing is to be ‘up with the larks’ at first light as the area they favour receives a high frequency of foot traffic along the coastal path. A visit later in the day and you could easily convince yourself that there are no birds there. Later in the day, the larks have generally skulked away into hiding under the daily onslaught of dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists. Every year I wonder how many of their delicate cup shaped grass nests are unknowingly trampled underfoot.
The site provides two main areas of photographic opportunities with either the birds resting or foraging on the ground or perched on the surrounding fence posts having made the rapid vertical descent from a song flight. The light was not great in quantity but had a soft early morning quality.
When photographing birds an individual will quickly indicate if you have been careful enough in your approach that it will tolerate your presence. If it does not then there is little point in pursuing it as it is unlikely to have changed its mind if you manage to get close to it again. Therefore there is no point chasing birds and it is not fair on them to waste their valuable energy for your photograph. The welfare of the subject is and should always be at the top of the priority list and best photographic opportunities are nearly always when a bird comes to a position where you are waiting. The first bird I managed to get close to by crawling through the dew soaked grass.These low level photographs can be quite difficult as often there will be a couple of annoying blades of grass in front of the bird where you least want them to be. Repositioning is not always an option at very close range and often it’s a case of hoping the bird will move in to a better position. The occasional bird would land on the fence line and this produced a few photographs. I came across a particularly tolerant bird that landed on the top of some dune fencing and offered a number of poses. It was good to be back in close company with the skylarks. I decided to leave that group of birds and try another small area of marsh further along the coast. Again I encountered good numbers of birds, which is always good to see, but quickly became distracted from my Skylark quest by a Little Egret on the edge of the marsh. This bird proved rather wary until it took flight due to an approaching dog walker and swung round and flew right past me a close range in the early sunlight. This seemed like a good moment to bring the session to an end and head home for breakfast. I had enjoyed some wonderful wildlife encounters before most peoples’ weekend alarm clocks had even gone off.