By 5 am, the hide boat with the four photographers on board was making its way slightly upstream before cutting right into a narrow channel. Ahead of us the feint creeping glimmer of pink orange light was increasing as the sun moved up towards the horizon. The morning session was going to be spent in what I call 'Grebe Lake' as we had spent a good deal of time there the previous year photographing the Black-necked variety. This was one of my favourite places from the visit last year. The lake is ringed by a perimeter of high reeds with various patches of floating aquatic plants across the placid waters. Being relatively small it conveys a certain feeling of 'intimacy' with the wildlife. A very special and idyllic place to be at first light although not a tranquil one as there is a tenable throb in the air from the mass of life that inhabits its crystal clear waters.
The boat slowly eased in to the lake and almost immediately encountered a breeding coloured Squacco Heron struggling to subdue its frog breakfast in the soft pre-dawn light. A great start to the session.
Next stop around this bird photographers' paradise were some Red-neck grebes. I was actually happier that we were getting much better encounters with these than the Black-necked variety given the limited opportunity with them the previous year. They are a fairly small grebe and looked superb in their fine late spring plumage. We spent a while with these birds as they gently cruised around us in front of the boat, occasionally stopping to the preen.
A pair swimming and calling in unison
The light was rapidly getting more intense and it was time to move on, before leaving the small lake we came across another two more Squacco Herons perched in amongst some lily pads and glowing in the warm early morning light.
The second one quickly dipped into the water in front and plucked a large water beetle off the vegetation which with a quick flick quickly disappeared between its bright blue bills.
With the light intensity and temperature rapidly increasing the boat slipped out of the small lake and into an elongated back channel. Again this was a reed fringed area with dense patches of lilies, water soldier and water mint dotted with the pale forms of Squacco herons. The fragrance of mint filled the air as the warming sun evaporated the oils of the plants. Here is a brief video as we passed down the channel to give you an idea of the scene.
A back channel on the Danube Deta from Richard Steel on Vimeo.
In the distance we could see a long snake-like neck of a Purple Heron emerging from one of the vegetation patches. This was a bird I was keen to try and photograph on this trip having only previously managed some flight photos of them in Mallorca. However, they are incredibly wary birds and difficult to get close to. The boat crawled along the edge of the channel to bring us close. The young bird, appeared to catch a newt, before taking off on a short flight and fortunately landed in a patch of water mint opposite us.
We back tracked along the channel to where we had seen another Red-necked Grebe. This one was having a bit of territorial dispute with a Great Crested Grebe. Presenting the two contenders...