Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Beach Buntings

I have spent a bit of time in the past photographing Snow Bunting along the shores of North Wales. This year I have been fortunate to have two buntings on the 'doorstep' which have taken up their winter residence literally a 2 minutes drive from home. These are birds that have been around the coastline since the autumn and after a short absence reappeared and now seem firmly settled in one area of the beach.

Snow Bunting commonly spend the winter along the coasts having descended from their upland breeding sites to look for seeds that have floated down rivers and end up amongst the seaweed and debris along the tide line. After the winter storms, the local area of sandy beach where they are favouring is covered in debris. Pieces of dried blackened bladderwrack sea weed, assorted bits of human plastic debris, together with empty whelk and dogfish egg cases. All this is set among many shell fragments, particularly cockles and razor-clams, that have been sucked out of the sand by the raging winter seas and smashed against the seawall and its rock and concrete defences. The effect is the resulting debris field actually makes photographing the birds in a relatively clean and attractive setting fairly difficult. It requires some patience and carefully watching to where the birds are moving and waiting for them to appear in small gaps and areas of clean beach between the shore 'junk'.  The task was made slightly easier as during my visits as the local council was digging up the wind blown drifts of sand and dumping it back on the beach. The track marks from the dumper making clean sand ridges which proved to be a useful place to try and photograph the birds when they occasional moved there.

These two birds are particularly approachable and fairly oblivious to people and even free running dogs on this busy beach as they shuffle around the beach in characteristics snow bunting fashion looking for seed fragments. Snow Bunting are often a fairly easy species to photograph as long as you wait and let them come to you, as is the case for the majority of bird species. As with most birds on the ground or water, the best viewpoint is a low one to let your photos reflect their world. In the case of small Snow Bunting this means lying down and getting very close to the sand with your camera. It never ceases to amaze me after one of these sessions how sand seems to permeate into everything no matter how careful you are. I think my car currently has half of the beach in it and is certainly overdue a good clean out.

The photographs in this post are a selection from two fairly short consecutive morning sessions I spent lying on the beach one weekend recently. It was a very cold experience but fun. Strangely I only seem to ever find myself lying on a beach in the winter. On the first session it took me a while to locate the birds which can be quite difficult to spot. I was wandering along the sea wall scanning the beach and fortunately stopped to suddenly unexpectedly see one of the birds on top of the wall about a metre in front of me. I had almost 'tripped' over it. Since that weekend I have done one more session, which I will show in another post, which was at the end of the day and managed to catch the birds in the last orange glow of light on a sparkling clear winter's day.

Some occasional wing stretches

Currently we have a rare bird on the local marine lake in the shape of a young Laughing Gull from America. This bird is attracting bird watchers and photographers from all over the country. Many of these visitors take the time to look for the two Snow Bunting, after the gull, and so these wonderful little birds are getting a fair bit of attention at the moment. No doubt they are giving delight to most that see them , although I suspect for some they are just another tick on this year's expanding species list. Hopefully they will stay a while longer yet as it will be good to spend a bit more time with them before they head back to the hills for the summer.


Matt Latham said...

Fabulous images, Richard. These are always a great subject. All birds should behave like snow bunts!

Esben Reiersen said...

Briliant shots of this Snow Bunting! I really like the low viewpoint. The light is beautiful and the background is nice and clean. Very good sharpness. This really inspires me.
Well done!
Best regards Esben Reiersen

JR said...

Great shots of this lovely and friendly bird.


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