Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Up with the Larks

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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is in the Hare

Firstly apologies for the delay in blog update but I'm sure there is some force of nature that as you get older the hours in the day get shorter. Certainly the years pass more quickly and I cannot believe that we are already heading rapidly towards the end of March and the first of the migrant birds are appearing on our shores

For many people the hare is the symbol of Spring, as they chase and battle their way across the first shoots of a farmer's new crop. Personally I like to photograph them throughout the year and particularly in the long lazy days of late summer when they seem so much more relaxed. My sessions with the hares this year have all been brief sessions before or after work now that the day length has increased sufficiently. However, strangely this year despite getting quite a few photographs of these enigmatic animals I have yet to actually had the sun shine on one. A good indication of the low light conditions is reflected by the dilated pupil of this head portrait. (sometimes a 500mm lens is just too long!)

The weather has been slightly odd with there always being cloud in the early morning before the skies then clear and the hares disappear.

The lack of light has been of no benefit for trying to capture action photos but has created some good even lighting for portraits.

It is always good to get some eye contact in an image and to fall under a prolonged direct gaze of a hare is a magical shared moment.

Why did the soggy hare cross the road? Well probably because a female had previously and an enticing scent trail was being followed.

After all that chasing around there is a need to lie quietly to recuperate amongst the fresh lush new growth of spring....

....or to undertake a spot of early morning grazing to build the energy levels back up for the next mad dash.

I have literally hundreds of hare images in my library and I am occasionally asked why I continue to photograph them. Well there is no answer I can put in to words as to the reason but anyone who had a prolonged encounter a close range will understand.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Glimpses of Light

Many of you will have probably guessed from my recent posts that the light, which is the essence of photography, has been in drastically short supply over the past few weeks. There have been the occasional bright days and moments but typically they have coincided with me being otherwise occupied with work. There are few things more frustrating than looking at the sunlight pouring through the office window on a week day only to see the weather suddenly flick to dark grey gloom for the following entire weekend. To try and overcome these light issues and get some photographs taken, I have tried to keep my camera with me as much as possible. This has been mainly to try and stack the odds in my favour when those glimpses of better light do occasionally show. So this Blog post is a compilation of species arising from snatched moments of light since the beginning of the year.

I managed to find a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits at the edge of the ebbing tide at the end of the road where I live. A quick dash down the hill was made as the sun briefly appeared.

A large flock of Bewick's Swans, which are unusual for my local area, gathered on some flooded agricultural fields. These wild swans are a very different proposition for photography than the loaf munching variety on the local park lake. They are very nervous birds and required a careful approach.

While on the topic of swans I stopped briefly on the way home from work last week to find this Mute Swan in the fading embers of sunset. Its good to see the day lengths are slowly starting to draw outwards.

I caught up with one of the Common Buzzards that lurks near the office. Perched in its regular location during a lunch hour last week. They are certainly a species of habit and routine.

I have been keeping up with the various Corvids that I love to photograph and kept my couple of feeding sites going. This has the benefit that the birds quickly appear, after I do, which is ideal for my often very brief visits.
A Jay taking an apparently perilous dive towards the ground.

A rather tatty looking Magpie coming in to land. I suspect this one has had a few run-ins with the local crows. It is interesting at these corvid feeding sites to watch the pecking order between species. At this particular site the order of dominance is crow, magpie and then jay.

A gentle touch-down by a Rook.

There has been an increasing presence of Wood Pigeon at one of the feeding sites. Some of which are starting to look very well fed!

To finish off this post of making the most of limited moments of light, an early morning encounter with a Meadow Pipit on the beach.

The signs of Spring are on the way with the first migrants in the form of Northern Wheatear arriving in the south of the UK heralding the sign of an exciting bird photography days ahead over the next 3 months.


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