Thursday, April 30, 2015

Up with the Larks

A key piece of equipment for successful bird photography is a good alarm clock. First light is a busy period in birds' lives as they are often hungry from their overnight roost and need to build energy levels back up. The other benefit of course is that you also get that soft early light that shows the birds off to the best and the day has not warmed up enough for the focus ruining, wobbling air of heat haze to kick in. Of course at this time of year, and going into the summer, with the every increasing day lengths this can be punishing on a person's sleep regime. You have to be on your sight as the sun is appearing. So if you take in to account getting yourself up and out of the house (which includes a mandatory coffee) together with travel time, you end up having to set the trusty alarm clock to times when some people are just coming home from a night out.
Despite it being a struggle to get up at these unsociable times with usually results with you feeling later in the day (the mid-afternoon zombie time) like you have never slept in your entire life,   I do love these early mornings. A joy to travel along empty roads and the dawn period often has a wonderful stillness and freshness with the main sounds being just the wildlife around you.

Photography of skylarks definitely seems to benefit from an early start. Over the years I have spent a good deal of time with these birds but never seem to tire of what for me is the harbinger of spring. When images of skylarks start appearing on the back of the camera you know that spring is just around the corner and the first of the arriving migrants the Chiffchaff, the Wheatear and the Ring Ouzel will not be long in arriving.

Most people associate Skylark as a bird of flight as the flutter upwards in song until they nearly disappear from sight before descending to the preferred rough grassland habitat once more. However, photographing these birds in flight is a real challenge. Rather than fly past, which they only seem to do when chasing rivals in rapid twisting fights during periods of setting up their territories, they tend to go vertically straight up. Unless you are in close proximity to the bird when it goes up or down then your chances of getting photographs are slim. Of course they use the wind to aid them in their vertical liftoff and so the breeze needs to be blowing in the same direction as the light to get front lit photographs of the birds.

I have had some success with photographing them in flight previously and thought I would give it another go this year. Wind, light and birds all came together one morning for a memorable session which produced a good number of images.  Certainly it produced enough images, a few of which are here, to satisfy that early spring craving for these wonderful birds for another year.
Next year? Well may be I will try and capture some of those territorial mid-air battles between rival males which would be a big photography challenge. Mind you it wouldn't be so fun or rewarding if you didn't have to work for it, at least that's what I tell myself when fumbling around for the alarm off button at 4am.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fairhaven Diver

Apologies again for the lack of updates. There just does not seem to be enough hours in the day at the moment. My dad continues to be in hospital, work is busy and spring wildlife is getting busy! I have also been putting together a long presentation together on my trips to Romania, which I am giving next week, that has taken a large amount of time. Anyway onwards with this post.....

I have always had a strong fondness for the Divers as a group of birds. Elegant shapes, beautiful summer plumage and of course that haunting atmospheric call of the 'Loon'. The soundtrack of every US film which features a lake. Having said that my photography of them has been somewhat limited to the Great Northern Diver on a couple of occasions in the winter. This is one of the primary reasons why I am heading to Iceland in a little over a month's time now where I hope to encounter both Great Northern and Red Throated Divers in their glorious summer plumage. Its been booked a long time now and so is an exciting prospect that is rapidly drawing close.

I always keep an eye on bird watching reports and back in mid-February, a Red Throated Diver started to be reported on Fairhaven Lake near Blackpool. Some photographs started to appear of what seemed to be and was being reported as a very approachable bird. As I am quite crowd adverse, with these long staying birds, I tend to leave it a while before visiting and the early rush of interest has died down. This strategy obviously runs the risk of these 'popular' photography birds disappearing but on occasions has had the benefit of it being just me and the bird. To me that is my favourite situation, far from the maddening crowds.

So I headed up to Fairhaven for an afternoon session when the weather looked like it would be reasonable. The formerly accommodating bird now seemed to be taking a bit of an exception to people no doubt having been chased all around the lake over the proceeding weeks by scores of visiting photographers. So it was quite happy to spend the majority of its time drifting around and occasionally fishing in the middle of this sizable lake. There were a few other photographers present, one who I found particularly annoying.

It was a cold day with a strong icy wind blowing of the sea and I was lying down by the side of the lake waiting for the bird to occasionally drift in close. The car park was a short distance away up a slope. This 'photographer' insisted in sitting in his car and every time the bird started drifting close in to the bank, came running from his car down the slope and jumped down by the side of the lake resulting in the bird doing a rapid u-turn and heading back away. This would see him scuttling off back to the warmth of his car. Fortunately he left after about an hour. Its this kind of stupid behaviour which is primarily not fair to the bird and inconsiderate to other photographers which is why I have become crowd adverse.

The weather didn't quite turn out as forecast and the sun on arrival quickly disappeared behind overcast skies turning the water from dark to pale grey. However, this is an attractive bird even under the flat light and in its winter plumage with some beautiful patterning across the back of the wing feathers.
A bit of early afternoon bathing

The session was about 4.5 hours long with most of the time spent watching a distance bird but occasionally interrupted with brief flurries of photo taking as it drifted close. When moving to get a better position on the bird I always did it whilst under the water and tried to anticipate where it might surface. This is not easy as they can spend a long time submerged and travel a surprisingly large distance. On one occasion it dived under and surface right in front of me so all I could fit in frame was its head. I like it when they do that :)

Just before I was about to leave the bird made its way into the northern corner of the lake and right up into a narrow channel where the banksides created some nicely coloured darker water.

A great place to finish the session and return to my car to thaw out. This was a useful session as it gave me a little insight in to how these birds behave which hopefully will be of some help when I get to Iceland.


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