Firstly may I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope 2013 is filled with many memorable wildlife encounters for you. Apologies for the lack of updates over the last couple of weeks but the end of the year is always busy with final archiving and backing up images from the previous 12 months. I have also been busy with writing a magazine article.
I will turn the clock back just a couple of weeks to the end of 2012. I was really looking forward to my extended Christmas break and hoping that I would get plenty of opportunities to spend a few hours with the camera. However, for nearly the entire festive holiday the weather conditions were bad with persistent rain and a grey gloom overhead and more importantly a distinct lack of light. So each day I would keep my eyes glued to the weather forecast hoping for a moment of light to break through the stubborn blanket of grey above.
The first of these chinks of light was on Boxing Day morning and it was felt very good to escape the 'cabin fever' and step out at first light into the fresh morning air after the house bound easting excesses of the previous day. The period of sunlight looked as if it would be brief so I decided to stay local. I did not really have a plan on where I was heading to as I pulled away from the house. This is not usually a good idea as you can often spend most of the time driving around undecided and have very few photographs by the end of the session. As I was heading out towards the motorway a decision had been made and I would try and photograph some Red-breasted Merganser that appear each winter on the local marine lake. It has been a couple of years since I had last photographed this species so I was pleased to see about eight birds present as I arrived.
Two females on early morning feeding patrol
This is not an easy site as the birds are generally wary and it is a large lake making it easy for the birds to drift out of photography range. I have often found in the early mornings the birds will feed along the lake edge before the visitors and dogwalkers arrive, which tend to push them out beyond reach into the centre. My normal approach for these and other diving birds is to move to my position when they are foraging underwater. So I went straight from car to lake edge during the first dive. Lying still when they surfaced. On the next dive I moved to a position along the lake where I thought they would surface and so on. Sometimes you get into the right position and the bird surface right in front of you, other times not. To an onlooker I am sure my behaviour must have looked a little strange as repeatedly I jumped up quickly, walked a little away along the lake edge and lied down again.
The session was quite brief as what I had not figured into my calculation was how many people would be out in the early sunlight for a Boxing Day constitutional. Therefore the birds presence at the lake edge was brief.
Just left with a head as a male bird disappears into a trough between waves.
The next glimmer of sunlight took place on the morning before New Years Eve but this time was accompanied by a very stiff wind. When photographing birds on water I have two preferred conditions either flat calm that gives potential for reflective images with a sense of tranquility or very rough water which gives more energy and dynamics to the image. Again half a dozen birds were present but this was rapidly reduced to a solitary male as two windsurfers came speeding up the lake. However, I managed to stay with the male at close range for quite a long period.
A male bird in mid-dive. This is a photograph I have been trying to get for a while. It happens very quickly with the only hint the bird is about to dive being a slight flattening of the feathers and posture. I was happy to get one though which still showed the birds eye just before it disappeared. This was my cue to move position once more.
Male Red-Breasted Merganser are difficult to photograph from an exposure point of view given the black and white plumage. The head is particularly tricky as it turns from black to green depending on the light angle as you can see in some of the images.
It was a good way to finish off my year which had been a little odd due to being seriously ill at one point. Looking forward to 2013 I already have many photography plans forming which includes a trip to Romania and the Danube Delta in June which I am really looking forward to. I hope you will enjoy and join me regularly on my wildlife photographic journey through 2013.