Friday, April 27, 2012

Return of the Chats

A few years back Stonechat were a common sight, perched on the scrub and gorse of the coastal strip, along the north of the Wirral peninsula. These birds always raised a smile with their rusty round bodies giving them the appearance of a large bumble bee in flight as they dash between prominent perches.  I have also always really liked their characteristic call that sounds like two pebbles being tapped together.
The Stonechat have been nearly completely absent for the last couple of years locally, and I suspect the population of these very small birds were probably hit hard in the long harsh freezing winters of the last three years. The general rule is the smaller the animal the quicker it loses body heat due to its volume to surface area ratio which creates a need to consume more food in order to maintain itself and body heat. This is the reason that an animal such as the tiny shrew has such a voracious appetite. You can obviously see why a prolonged very cold winter could easily impact on these birds when energy demands are high and food becomes scarce under the freezing conditions.
So finding a pair of Stonechat had returned to the coastal area was very welcome after their prolonged absence. These birds are generally quite approachable which always helps with photography and on this occasion I concentrated my efforts just on the male as it was in such perfect condition. The main difficulty with photographing these birds is getting the photo exposure correct and retaining feather detail in the combination of the black head and bright white 'collar'. It is very easy to overexpose the white area.
With certain species of birds I tend to associate then with particular types of plants. For example a Grasshopper Warbler on brambles or Goldfinch on teasel. For Stonechat I always associate them with gorse as this is where they are most commonly perched in our local area. Despite having an extensive library of Stonechat images I have never managed to photograph them on flowering gorse and so was pleased to finally capture some images.
It also pays to sometimes switch to a shorter lens to give a wider angle of view to give a greater feel of the bird in its habitat. The difference between the image above and below is the result of switching from a 500mm lens to a 300mm lens.
These birds were only present for around a week and seem to have disappeared once again. It may be that the pair were just moving along the coast looking for suitable habitat to set up a breeding territory. However, the brief visit gives some hope that before long they may hopefully become once again a regular and welcoming sight along the local coastal strip as it has certainly been a poorer place for their absence.


Anonymous said...

Awesome images Rich, great composition, background, exposure, everything! Would like to hear more about your techniques, and your fieldcraft to get in such great positions. How close are you? Are you in a hide?
cheers, Jim Longworth

Noushka said...

Brilliant pictures of this Stonechat I have yet to photograph!
I would like to do as well one day! :)
Congrats and enjoy your WE!

Laura Delegal - Leroy Photography said...

Such a beautiful bird, well captured.


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