Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Seven Year Itch for 'Storm Bats'

Regular readers will have noticed I have not updated this blog for a while. There has been a couple of reasons for this. Firstly I thought I needed to have a break to recharge the 'blogging batteries'. After all I have been writing this journal now continuously for 11 years. Secondly I have effectively 'lost' the first 5 years or so of photographs from my musings which as you can imagine I was none to impressed with. This came about as for a period when producing the blog in the early years, I started hosting images on here through Photobucket. Unfortunately, Photobucket has now started charging for 3rd party site hosting and frankly I am not prepared to pay the $400 per year they are now charging that would bring the images back. I could go back through and re-enter all the post images but as you can imagine for a 5 year period this is no small undertaking and probably something I may actually never get round to.

Anyway, I have decided to start blogging once more, and in my 7 month absence have had some wonderful wildlife experiences which I look forward to sharing with you. I will start with the most recent which took place only this week.

I am fortunate to live at the end of the Wirral Peninsula which is probably one of the few and best places in the UK to photograph Leach's Storm Petrel from the shore when the conditions are right. The ideal conditions are strong north-westerly gales for a period of two to three days, ideally couple with some large tides around the middle to end of September. The last time this occurred and big numbers of Leach's Petrel were blown into the shore was way back in 2010. Every September since, I have carefully watched weather and tide conditions hoping and waiting for a repeat performance but it has just not developed. It seemed that every September that came round was accompanied by settled conditions with a lack of the necessary storms. People often ask me how long did you have to wait to get a particular photograph? Often it is not as long as you would imagine but for the Leach's Petrels, the 7 year wait has felt like a very long time.

At the end of last week, I was on my usual September weather watch and it appeared that all the right conditions were suddenly going to converge to bring in goods numbers of Leach's Petrel into the local shore. The winds were right, the tide heights and times were all looking good. Before I get on to some images I will take a few moments to describe why these are such challenging birds to photograph from the shore beyond the waiting for all the right conditions to come together. The Leach's Petrel is a small bird  about the size of a starling and tend to be very erratic in their moments in the onshore gales. To me they often resemble a large bat which is why I call them 'Storm Bats'. The conditions that bring them into shore makes for some tough photography. They require use of long lens that usually need to be handheld to try and keep on the birds, the strong winds buffet both camera and photograph and also this is accompanied by a constant sea spray off the raging sea. The birds appear and disappear within the rolling breakers and twist and turn as they try and battle their way back out to sea. You have to admire these birds that appear so small and delicate but apparently totally fearless in these conditions as they characteristically patter across the turbulent water surface. Below are a couple of images to give you an idea of the conditions that birds and photographers are battling with.

So on to the session itself, I left home at lunchtime on Monday and after a couple of minutes drive and I was at the mouth of the River Mersey. Groups of birdwatchers were parked up or huddled in groups against the Perch Rock Fort out of the pummelling wind looking for these elusive birds. A chat with a couple of them confirmed that the Leach's Petrel were appearing. This meant they would slowly make their way along the north coast of the Wirral as the tide dropped. I moved on further along the coast to park at the top of an embankment where I spotted around a few birds struggling their way through the waves, however too distant for photography. However, if the birds were here it should mean they would hit the shore at my favourite spot which is where I headed to next. My friend Steve arrived quickly followed by a sharp downpour of rain which was whipped horizontally by the onshore winds. However, the skies then cleared and we started to get some good light as the first of the Leach's Petrel made it way along the edge. Over the next 2.5 hours we had around 20 birds pass close to where we were stood, sometimes too close, allowing us both to make some of our favourite Leach's Petrel images to date. The will be many images below as all my previous images of these wonderful birds from back in 2010 have currently disappeared in the Photobucket 'black hole'.

So will I have to wait another 7 years before the next petrels to appear? Well possibly not. With the series of hurricanes currently battering the east coast of the USA it may be possible that remnants of these storms may wind their way across the North Atlantic bringing more birds into shore. As usual during the rest of September, I will be keep a close eye on the weather with the hope of another encounter with these wonderful ocean wanderers.


Pauline Greenhalgh said...

Those are a fabulous selection of petrel images much enjoyed by me ! Its quite a long time since I saw one let alone take photos - wonderful work!

Dave Williams said...

Some absolute stonkers amongst those shots Rich, worth all the waiting. Winds and good light too, photographic heaven!

Wood Fairy said...

I always look forward to your posts - this one didn't disappoint - you have totally captured the movement and purpose of this little bird, you almost want to stop and wonder what his thoughts are. Thanks for taking the time to share.

Charles Farnell said...

Real quality Rich. Sadly I dipped out big time for a host of reasons. Shall I make it by 2024?🤔

Tony Enticknap said...

Superb images in this post, all masterfully captured - I can picture the scene and know how difficult it must have been.

kallyng said...

Your photographs are always inspirational. The quality of these shots are amazing, capturing such a small fast bird in such rough conditions is worth the wait.

Mike Atkinson said...

Glad to see you posting again, Richard. Great images. :)


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