Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Plan W - Session 1

At the beginning of each year I formulate my photography plans for the next 12 months. Some of the plans are pursued while others fall by the wayside due to time constraints. I have always found the best approach is often to concentrate efforts on a particular species over several sessions. This allows me to gain a good understanding of the animals behaviour and refine my images. My two primary bird species targets for this year were Whinchat and Corn Bunting.

Pursuing Whinchat (which quickly became known as Plan W) was actually a difficult decision due to it requiring forfeit of photographing Common Redstarts which would need to be done at the same time of year. The choice was made tricky as it meant that the private site where I have photographed the Redstart for the last 3 years would probably be lost for good. However, reviewing my extensive Redstart image library it looked like it was time to move on.

My previous photography of Whinchat had been very limited to a handful of images of migrant birds passing through my local area in mid-Spring. To undertake this concentrated effort would require travelling to their upland breeding areas. My first Plan W trip started well, albeit with the wrong species, when I found this Curlew caught in the first rays of the day on the upland moors.
However, it was Whinchat I was seeking and the search began across the extensive area of moorland.
After a while I spotted a male bird perched on a low shrub.
I decided to set up camp there with a pop-up hide next to the bush hoping it was part of a regular route for the bird around its territory. I waited, and waited and waited but the bird never returned but I could seeing them moving around at distance on the low hillside behind. In the end I decided the approach was not working and moved back to the car to try another area. As I was driving along I fortunately spotted a female on a low shrub right next to the road, which she then dropped behind.
A male bird then appeared in the same spot and followed the same route as the female.
It looked like I had found a nesting site and in a very convenient location as I could use my car as a hide. The only downside was that it was a single track road and I would have to move each time another vehicle came along, although that was very infrequently. The rest of the first session I spent just capturing some more photos of the birds, watching their behaviour and building up a small collection as the birds perched on a range of roadside vegetation including heather and bracken.
A larger caterpillar destined for a hungry brood.
I kept the sessions fairly brief as I wanted the birds to slowly become accustomed to my presence. Just before leaving and while the birds were away foraging, I introduced a small perch nearby to gauge their reaction and which the female began to use immediately.
It was a good start to Plan W and as I headed home I was already thinking about and looking forward to the next session.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heading to the Hills

The other day I saw a Northern Wheatear in its apricot autumn colours heading rapidly southward, a sign of the autumn bird migration getting started. This sighting reminded me of a memorable brief session I had with this species earlier in the year, when the birds were heading northwards to their upland breeding areas, but had not got round to going through the images. We get quite good numbers of the birds moving along the coastal strip of the Wirral during migration. I have generally found the spring birds to be much less approachable for photography. They always seem to try and keep at distance that is just out of photography range and always move a short distance ahead of any approaching person with a flash of their white rump, from where they derive their name.
A spring male bird is a joy to behold and certainly brightens up the mid-March landscape, when they first arrive locally and during their long journey up from Africa. This particular bird shown here I came across whilst out looking for Skylarks during May. I spotted the bird, looking resplendent in its fresh plumage, sitting on a fence post and was surprised in that it allowed a close approach.
The bird then dropped to the ground in a dip in the sandy grasslands, that border the coast, and I could suddenly see a good potential opportunity. After watching the foraging bird for a few moments, I predicted the path it was going to take and went round to the far side of the depression and lay down and waited at the top of the bank just out of view of the bird. The secret to the closest wildlife encounters is often to predict the path of the animal or bird based on your knowledge of its behaviour and hope it keeps wandering in the direction of your position. Obviously luck plays it part with this approach and some say I always seem to have it on my side but maybe it happens a little to often for it just to be by chance alone.

After a short wait a head appeared over the crest of the bank directly in front of me.
The bird paused for a while decided I posed no threat and slowly came up on to the top of the bank where I was lying.
This beautiful male Wheatear then stayed in close proximity for a while allowing me to take quite a few photographs. At times it came very close and inside minimum focusing distance on the lens and I had to wait motionless for it hop back out to a suitable range. It obviously knew I was there but seemed unperturbed by my presence.
The session came to an abrupt end when a dog walker, seeing me lying on the ground, walked right up to me to ask what I was photographing. I pointed to the Wheatear flying off in to the distance.