Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Swirling Masses

It has been a very good year for waders along my local coast. The birds overwinter here having bred in more northerly latitudes in the spring and early summer. They spend these cold months probing the rich muds that accumulate around the peninsula from the two large rivers that border its sides and discharge into the Irish sea.   Huge flocks, mainly of Knot, mixed with less numbers of Dunlin and Sanderling, have been present and have attracted bird watchers, photographers and the general public to watch the spectacle. Count estimates have been up to 40000 birds gathering together. The best times to watch this are on the big spring tides where beach space is limited by the high water levels for the birds to roost over the high tide period.

The birds gather in tight groups on the shore and are constantly on the move as they jostle up the shore to escape the advancing sea. Periodically they will take flight, sometimes due to a marauding bird of prey looking for an easy meal. The spectacle and sound of these enormous flocks as they lift-off is a memorable experience.  The birds will often then go a short distance out of the sea and swirl in tight formations, flashing dark and light as they twist and catch the light. To capture this amazing sight with still photographs can barely do such a wonder of nature justice.

In the photograph below the island behind is Hilbre Island that sits in the mouth of the Dee Estuary.

The flocks became a popular attraction over the last couple of months and always put on a superb display for onlookers the look on in awe.

The roosting periods are important for the birds as they operate on tight energy budgets during the winter months. Unfortunately they do not have exclusive use of the beach and are frequently subject to disturbance by walkers and dogs. There has been a concerted effort by the local the bird watching community and photographers, combined with a warden scheme to educate the public on the importance of allowing the birds some space and peace. However, there are still people who pay no attention and happily let there dog run in to the flocks or bird watchers or photographers from outside the local area who seem to think walking up to birds will somehow not disturb them. If you visit on the large tides there actually is no need to step on to the beach at all as the birds are brought right up to you by the incoming tide allowing plenty of photo opportunities.

The photograph below is part of the flock, tightly gathered, and waiting for the advancing tide. As the beach is so flat the tide advances with dangerous speed on these large tides and a few minutes after this was taken the sand was covered.

I do not often bother photographing flocks as I prefer to target individuals or small groups. I find flocks quite difficult although that may be down to lack of practice. With flocks of this size it is more like landscape photography that includes a large flock of birds. I suppose you could call them 'birdscapes'. The photographs in this post are a selection from two visits that I made, one in December and one earlier this month. The weather conditions during the January visit were beautiful with the rare winter treat of clear skies and light winds.

On the beach the birds gather into extremely tight flocks and occasionally there will be a wave of movement through it with all the birds lined up and facing the same directions. This creates waves of patterns through the gathered birds which is a delight to watch.

Places to land are always at a premium. When the flock lifts off at close range there often seems to be more wings than air in which to flap them. These are photographs that are asking to be made in to a very difficult and frustrating jigsaw puzzle.

I know these photographs really have not done the dynamic nature of these a flocks justice but hopefully will give you a small impression of this amazing gathering of nature. A real treasure to have on your doorstep.


Sharon Whitley said...

Really enjoyed reading this post and the photos are wonderful - I live very close to the Dee Estuary on the Welsh side, would love to see this for real, thanks for sharing

Nancy J said...

These are amazing, and give me some idea of huge flocks, jostling for landing and take-off space, lining up together, and then the tide waits for no-one. A great start to 2013, in my opinion. Cheers from Jean

Dina J said...

That's got to be pretty amazing to see. You caught it all so perfect. I love those big windmills in the background.

Robert Mortensen said...


Marias Tusen og en Natt said...


Mary Howell Cromer said...

Whoosh!!! How could I nearly miss these? I get so behind on my viewing and comments and I so apologize. These are MAGNIFICENT...truly, TRULY WONDERFUL, every one!!!

Joe said...

Excellent photos. It's not often that people focus on flocks of birds, so it was refreshing to see photos like these. I especially love the second from last photo- the cloud is a really interesting shape and really adds something to the photo

Rich Steel said...

Many thanks for the replies which are appreciated as always. It is a great pleasure to have such a wonderful sight of the abundance of nature virtually on your doorstep.

I never take for granted how lucky I am to live here.




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