Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rothiemurchus Ospreys - Day 1

Earlier in the year my good friend Andy asked if I fancied spending a couple of days,  before he held a week of workshops, photographing diving ospreys up in Scotland. I had slight reservations about this initially as many photographers have visited the hides and come away with similar looking photographs but in hindsight now I am now very glad that I went for the experience of watching these master fishers in action. To see an osprey plunging into a pool at close range, the ensuring brief battle between fish and bird as the talons find purchase below the surface, and the sheer effort required for the saturated bird to escape the water clutching its prey is truly a memory for life experience. One part that will always stay with me is the sound of an osprey hitting the water, the speed and power of the plunge dive is nothing short remarkable. The sounds is similar to someone throwing a medium sized boulder in the water.

 So at the very end of July I took the long drive northwards to Aviemore and met up with Andy and my other companions for the next two days Rob and Dave. I can't remember what time the alarm went off the following morning, probably around 4:30 am but it was far too early and still dark. We made the short-drive, with anticipation running high, to the Rothiemurchus Fishery. Before I tell you about the first day there, a huge deal of appreciation and thanks must go to all the people at Rothiemurchus who have been involved with the establishment of what can only be described as a world-class osprey photography facility. Both the thought and effort that has gone into this should not be understated. I also wish to particularly thank Julian and Neil Mc for their superb running commentary on approaching birds throughout our time there. Without all their efforts these photos would not be here, so thank you.

To set the scene I will describe the setup. A small shallow raised lake has been created close to the trout fishing lakes and is separated from the main fishery by a row of trees. Three spacious and partially sunken hides have been constructed around one side of the pool. Each hide can very comfortably accommodate four photographers. The low position of the hides combined with the elevated pool effectively puts the photographers very close to water level, a very good perspective from where to catch the action. The hides are entered during semi-darkness and left once the birds have finished feeding. The hides are positioned for the rising dawn sun from behind. Wind direction on the day is critical as this dictates the direction the birds take off in (i.e they always fly off into the wind). As visibility from the hide of approaching birds is very limited a watcher is provided who relates the activity overhead via radio. This raises the level of anticipation in the hide for the waiting photographers and the single word they are listening out for, and causes the shutter fingers to tense, on the low volume radio is 'diving'. After which there is a very brief silent pause and then the eruption of water as a bird hits the surface.

We entered the hide, settled down and started to wait for the first bird. I wouldn't like to calculate the total value of camera kit in that hide but on the four tripods there were four Canon 1dx bodies, three of the new 200-400mm lens and a 300mm F2.8 (which I was using both with and without a teleconvertor). Given the large size of the subject and the relatively small size of the pool a focal length of 300 - 400 mm seemed optimal.   After about 75 minutes, the radio announced the first approaching and circling bird followed quickly by the first dive of the day by a bird known as 'Blue XD' (the birds are generally identified by their unique coloured legs bands). The light at this point was still fairly low and the excellent high ISO performance of the 1DX really came in to its own.

During the course of the morning session through until about 9:30 we had a total of 5 dives from 'Blue XD' and 'Blue DF' taking lake rainbow trout from the pool. We were even blessed with some very nice soft early sunlight.
The battle between bird and fish

Four happy photographers left the hide in the morning to head off for breakfast. The photographs in this post are a selection from the morning session.
One of the dives was right in front of the hide so that all could be fitted in to frame was the birds head and shoulders. An amazing experience to see such a beautiful bird up so close.

In the evening we returned to try some back-lit photographs but over the 4 or so hours we were there, not a single bird dived in the pool.  The main reason for the lack of action was a single 'rogue' bird known as 'Red 8T'. This appeared from its behaviour to be very territorial about other birds coming in to use the pool and spent the whole evening chasing other birds away. It had been a memorable day despite the lack of evening action and we looked forward to what the next day might bring although from the look of the weather forecast it seemed to the weather would be changing to a more typical Scottish rain.

While I am here I want to tell you about a wonderful new book my friend Andy, who arranged the Osprey sessions, has recently written on Little Owls.

It is a beautifully produced book filled with stunning images that really capture the lives and endearing 'character' of these tiny owls.With a forward by Chris Packham, the book is the culmination of 10 years hard work to photograph and capture the lives of these fascinating birds. For those who love wildlife and birds or just like some amazing photography then this is a book that will bring a great deal of pleasure. Andy's love for the subject and skill behind the camera real shine through in the words and images.

This book is currently only available through Andy's website (click HERE to go Andy's store) and he will provide a signed and dedicated copy on request which I always think is very nice personal touch if purchased as a gift for a friend or loved one.


The happy wanderer. said...

That's a "Wow" post! What a wonderful experience and post - thank you very much for sharing it.

Bob Bushell said...

Beautiful shots Rich.

Magia da Inês said...

Passei para admirar suas fotografias.
Super lindo!!! Fotografias perfeitas em pleno movimento.

Ótimo mês de novembro!
Bom fim de semana!
Beijinhos do Brasil ❥°º•.¸

David Gascoigne said...

These photographs are quite stunning. Ospreys are fairly common here and I never tire of watching them.

Arturo de Miguel said...

Gran trabajo.
Un saludo desde España.

Anonymous said...

Terrific set of images - really an impressive fisherman!

Rich Steel said...

Thanks once more for your comments. There will be another blog post on the remaining time with the ospreys coming soon.




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