Sunday, June 15, 2014

Romania and the Last Frontier - Day 3 p.m: Golden Glow

A good day was about to get a whole lot better! so expect a good number of photographs below. After the midday break which included fishing around in the vat of soup on the dining table trying to avoid the bits of carp, downloading cards and backing up and a quick siesta, we were assembled on the jetty at ready for the afternoon session.

First stop for the afternoon was going to be some Kingfishers. We had tried this spot the previous year with no sign of the birds but I think we had missed them due to our later trip. The strong current pushing down this channel made positioning the boat upstream and into the margin difficult. This was especially the case as the boat need to be perpendicular to the flow. After about 15 minutes the boat was in position and this was the scene before us.

On the left side of the image you can just see the vertical clay bank where the Kingfishers were nesting. After about 20 minutes the male appear with a fish and landed on the perch. With nice even light from some thin cloud overhead, and the dark green swirling waters providing a back drop, the colours of these birds appeared incredibly vivid. A flash of brilliance in this watery landscape. The bird flew into the nest before re-emerging a short while later and disappearing downstream in a flash of electric blue accompanied by the characteristic high pitched penetrating call. Apologies for the background on these photos which have suffered greatly  at the hands of jpeg compression but do look great on the originals.
Another 30 minutes or so past and the female appeared, distinguished by the red on the lower bill, also carrying a small fish.
The boat swung round due to the force of the current and needed to be re-positioned. Having photographed both birds on the perch I was thinking what else I could do. Typically the birds were landing, moving along the perch and then launching straight into the bank. I thought I might try a flight photo although this was not an easy proposition from a the moving platform of the boat that was gently rocking and yawing in the strong flow. Also probably not a very sensible idea given the light limitations, as you need to lot of camera shutter speed to freeze these small fast moving birds. I kept one photo from these attempts.
In total we spent a couple of hours at the Kingfisher site before we all agreed it was time to move on. As we traveled through the back channels to our next destination, the thin cloud dispersed and the sinking sun broke through. We came out into a very large lake, which I call 'Ibis lake', as we had managed to photograph some of these birds there the previous year. As the boat glided into the lake, to our left was a large area of floating weed that extended out from the the high reed fringed egde. Dotted across this mass of floating vegetation were numerous Squacco and Night Herons, a Little Egret and a couple of Glossy Ibis. With a lack of clouds in the sky this whole area would become beautifully lit in golden light as the sun dropped away.

I thought for this part I would post the images by species rather than in any chronological order as to be honest the whole session is a bit of a blur of birds and the sound of whirring camera shutters. At one point we had a Glossy Ibis, Night Heron, and Squacco Heron in a line in front of us and I was sequential going down the line up taking images. An amazing experience to have these photogenic species in front of you with the light improving with each passing moment. Of course the whole process was accompanied by the constant background chorus of frogs just to add the vibrant atmosphere.

I will start with the Glossy Ibis. We managed to photograph this bird the previous year in some fairly poor light. To really appreciate the beautiful colours of these birds they need some sun on them and this particular bird was in superb plumage. A wonderful combination of deep rusty red with a green and bronze metallic sheen across the wings that changed hue with the direction of light. The further the sun fell the more the colours sang out. The bird was striding across the vegetation which it was constantly probing with its curved beak and occasionally pausing to snap up an aquatic morsel. A small selection of photographs are below.

Occasionally a Hooded Crow would drop in amongst the feeding birds.These corvids seemingly perfectly happy in the water.
Next species was the Little Egret, a familiar species that has become increasingly common since the early 1990's  throughout the UK. However, what a treat it was to have one in such a great setting and light. The bird was showing the typical hyperactive traits of this species, striding around on top of the vegetation looking for food and generally harassing the diminutive Squacco herons. At one point the fish successfully captured a goby (embarrassingly as a trained fish scientist I am unable to tell you which species as thereare several that inhabit the diverse fish community of the delta).
When not feeding the Egret was making life difficult for the numerous Squacco Herons.
If there was ever a bird ideally suited for photography in golden evening light it has to be the Squacco Heron. The golden tones of their feathers really glow and softens the glare off their bright white wings. A range of activities were photographed including stalking prey, and fluttering across the weed having spotted a prey item at distance and shaking out those long feathers.
To finish off this incredible session, the Night Heron. I started off the session with a couple of flight photos as the birds moved in to their evening feeding area.
Typically these birds stand motionless for long periods before a small movement in the floating plants ahead falls under the stare of those large penetrating red eyes. The birds are then spurred into rapid action.
We were fortunate to witness the whole hunt of a frog from capture, to subduing the large meal to it finally disappearing from sight. A couple of photographs from this event are below.
We pulled up alongside a  Pygmy Cormorant was also glowing in the last of the days sun....
......and finished off the session with a Night Heron in the remainder of the light which was now taking on some pink hues
I felt quite drained after such an intense session and with some beaming photographer on the boat,  it was time to fire up the outboard and head back to the hotel for some catfish and tomatoes stew....oh great. Here is a short video clip of us leaving this area just to give you a feel for the number of birds we had in front of us.

Evening on the Delta from Richard Steel on Vimeo.

This had probably been my favourite session on the Danube Delta to date and one that will remaining in the memory, albeit slightly blurry by it intensity, for a very long time to come. I was already looking forward and wondering what the next day might bring.


Matt Latham said...

Great to read the accounts of your trip Richard and to see the stunning array of images. Looks a fabulous place.

JR said...

Simply amazing, this set of pictures.

Dave Williams said...

Very envious ! The Glossy Ibis shots are my favourites but the whole session looked brilliant.


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