Monday, 25 April 2016

Norfolk

Any break to Norfolk is special to me, but this year was a bit more so as it marked (hopefully) the end of the treatments that Dad has endured since getting back from Mull late last summer, and would help him start his recovery, not only from a physical side, but more importantly psychologically. I had to be sure he was fit enough first, which meant leaving any arrangements to the last moment, but within 24 hours of him agreeing, I had booked a small cottage in Wells-next-the-Sea and we set off on the following Saturday morning. It wasn't the best start though, when I awoke to find it had snowed overnight! I thought this was supposed to be Spring?

Dumping our gear in the cottage, we were both keen to get out exploring, and went straight to a spot we had enjoyed previously for watching marsh harriers. The skies were initally clearing, but each time a harrier strayed close enough for a photo, the light would fail to reach the bird, giving somewhat dark images. And when the clouds gathered once more, we relocated to a pub! The views of the Wherry were much better...

As with most trips away, I get up at dawn to explore what can be found nearby, and soon discovered that this year there were noticeably more brown hares around the fields. And despite it being April, there was still some mad March hare antics going on. I parked up in the corner of a field, and watched.

Thankfully they were far too busy with each other to even notice me, and I had some incredibly close views as they scampered across the fields and chased one another.

There were even a couple of fights, with nothing held back, leaving fur flying in the morning breeze...

Then as the sun got a little higher, they all dispersed leaving me to seek out something else. This better light meant I headed straight over to where we had been the day before, and this time the harriers were lit up beautifully as they circled over the marshes.

They're stunning birds, and were busy displaying, seeking out nesting material and also hunting, flying low across the reedbeds, slowly scouring the channels of water criss-crossing the nearby farmland, and dropping on to anything thay moved or didn't flee. With the number of wildfowl around, and vulnerable chicks, I couldn't see the harriers struggling to find enough to eat.

With it being Dad's Birthday, I thought I'd better get back to take him out to enjoy it. Touring around the lanes, we had great views of more hares, marsh harriers, grey partridges - in fact there seemed to be a lot of these around too - maybe they're getting better at avoiding the shooters, red-legged partridges and a glimpse of a couple of little owls. One of which I made a note of to try for the next morning.

But I know that Dad loves the Lifeboat Inn at Thornham, so as soon as we were near, we popped in for a beer. Standing just out of the breeze, we soaked up the views and warmth of the April sun. It's a fabulous spot.

Later in the afternoon I thought I'd seen the first barn owl of the trip until I realised it was actually a short-eared owl. Record pics only, as it was hazy by then and distant.

The day ended in another pub, enjoying some fine ales and good pub grub. Dad wanted to forget about the age he'd reached on his Birthday, as I did, for the next day was mine.

With a high pressure forecast for the week, my big day was disappointingly gloomy. The fields were mostly devoid of the hares I'd seen the day before, and all I could find were a few partridges. Plus the grey skies meant it was no point looking for the harriers, as the pics would have been too dark.

The morning remained pretty dull too, so I resorted to heading to the pub for my Birthday pint, and as we arrived, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. Perfect timing...

Later in the day, we returned to the harriers site and enjoyed much better views, and also found another spot nearby to watch from, which was a bit more sheltered from the rather cold breeze, and gave good views of hares and muntjac deer. Some of the harriers were defending territories now, and chased off rivals that strayed too close.

If my Birthday had been a little quiet on the wildlife side, the following day made up for it. Cloudless at dawn, and the little owl I had hoped to see finally appeared. Almost all of my little owls shots in my image library are of them in natural settings, so to get one on a barn was a belated Birthday present, and in such warm light too.

After the owl dived down and out of sight, I headed into the lanes once more, and soon found some brown hares. One even approached along the edge of a track to within a few yards of me, before pausing, probably from hearing the sound of the camera, posing, and then diverting off into the field behind. They are such beautiful animals - I love their eyes.

Then, after spending a couple of evenings without seeing a barn owl, I spotted one hunting over the marshes in the morning sun. I didn't need any encouragement to get out for a closer look. Needless to say, it had vanished by the time I'd got everything out of the car, but I took a stroll to see if I could relocate it. I didn't. It found me, appearing along the track from me, flying directly towards me. I waited for it to be almost filling the frame before firing off some shots.

The sound immediately spooked the owl, which changed direction and flew around me and off into some woods, appearing further down the track behind me, continuing hunting.

Wonderful! What a start to the day.

With Dad still being pretty weak, we limited any walking and I made sure if I did wander off at all, he was somewhere relatively sheltered and with somewhere to sit down if needed. That said, the progress he was making daily in terms of his fitness was astounding, filling me (and him) with confidence that he might be able to get back to being able to live normally again eventually. The marshes were alive with creatures setting themselves up for the breeding season, with plenty of insects already around too. The harriers were occasionally straying close enough for a pic, though typically just as Dad had returned to the bench nearby to rest his legs!

I did make up for it on the way back home though, when I managed to spot (not sure how as I was driving) a barn owl perched on a post in a paddock down a side-road, and we managed to park up to get some shots, though I missed out on what might have been when a car forced me to move and the owl flew off. Typical! Still, Dad got some super shots as the owl was on his side of the car.

Another cloudless morning followed, and again I caught up with the little owl, who was either stretching or perhaps breaking wind, when I spotted it on the roof.

The marsh harriers were very much focused on gathering twigs and sticks to build up their nests, sometimes spending some time on the ground breaking free the bit they were interested in, before returning to the reedbed, circling and dropping out of sight.

Up till now, we had spent all the break north of Wells, so I thought we ought to go for a look around the Cley side, and as Dad was able to walk a bit further, he might be ok to manage the stroll along the East Bank. He could, and the new hide at the end of it provided him with the perfect place to sit and watch for wildlife whilst I had a mooch along the back of the shingle beach, though the only birds I could see were flighty wheatears, meadow pipits and a few linnets. And a party of about 40 hikers saw off anything else from my vacinity. I watched a harrier hunting over the pools behind me, and was pleased to see it fly towards and over Dad's head. I was less pleased when I spoke to him later to discover he'd not even seen it!

The breeze had picked up by now, and it was genuinely chilly on the walk back, but we had to stop to photograph a ruff feeding in the small pools, until a lapwing chased it off.

Having heard I was in the area, a Twitter friend (Stephen from Pebbles Photography) had spoken to me and suggested a couple of sites for barn owls, as the usual ones I knew of weren't yielding any action, and I was on my way to one of them the next morning when a barn owl stopped me in my tracks. Only about a mile from the cottage, it flew across a paddock and perched on a post. Fabulous, and it didn't fly off when I parked up.

It did relocate when a truck thundered by, and I followed suit, heading to the site suggested. Didn't have to wait long for another barn owl to show, and I spent a good half an hour photographing it, though it did like vanishing over a hedge for good periods of time.

With it supposedly being the last day of decent weather, we chose to head inland to visit Sculthorpe Moor. Sadly the wildlife there was pretty scarce, though the woodland was full of birdsong and plenty of activity at the feeders. I don't think work being done at the end of the channel of reeds helped, so we cut our losses and found ourselves outside the Sculthorpe Mill, which on such a day is up there with the best of places to sit, enjoy an ale and watch the world go by.

It's always a pain to drag myself away from there, but the cloud seemed to be holding off, and we fancied returning to the coast to see what might be around, briefly stopping to photograph a patch of bluebells at the entrance to an estate that looked lovely in the sunshine.

Having strained my back reaching for the camera from the back seat, I chose to sit in the car for a bit whilst waiting to see if the barn owl might show late afternoon, but Dad braved the cool breeze and stood watching. The plan was for him to alert me should it appear. In fact I'd spotted not one but a pair appearing over the hedge and was already scrambling out of the car by the time Dad called me over.

The light was from the left side, and bright, so made the images somewhat backlit, and revealed details through the owl's wings, in the feathers that isn't often seen when photographed with the light behind me.

Made for some interesting images.

And as is the norm, the 1DX was absolutely awesome at locking on to the owls, despite being awkward light, and I came away with rather a lot of images from the session, along with a huge grin, something Dad was wearing too. We'd definitely be trying here again!

In fact, I was there again the very next morning, meeting up with Stephen for a chat. We saw an owl briefly, and more muntjac deer - seemed to be loads around the fields. But it was great to meet up with another Twitter buddy, and have a good natter about things. But with it being the last full day in Norfolk, I had to head back to pick Dad up and tour the harbours and fields along the coast, hoping for something to photograph. Brancaster harbour provided us with a tasty pot of local prawns, and good views of the black-tailed godwits feeding in the mud, being distracted occasionally by the sound of the jets thundering over high in the skies that morning.

Driving up to the Choseley Barns area, I was keen to see if any interesting birds were around, and we were soon watching three wheatears. Initially Dad said he wouldn't bother photographing them as he has pics of them already. I said I always photo them as they're such gorgeous birds, and their posing changed his mind pretty quickly.

Whilst watching them, I spotted a flicker of red... common redstart, a male and absolutely stunning. Perching in the hedge, he would drop down to snatch an insect, before retreating to the cover of the branches once more.

Never close enough for a proper shot, and I wasn't planning to get out, especially when I also clocked a male whinchat feeding in a similar manner! A beauty.

Then it was over to the owls site for another go, and we weren't disappointed. Once more, both owls appeared together and hunted around the fields in front of us.

The light was less harsh than before, and certainly made it easier for Dad's camera (my old 40D) to track them.

The last morning brought the prospect of the drive home, and also a freezing northerly breeze. It was cold enough to stop me waiting around for any owls to show, and I didn't really have that much time to wait anyway. Up at the barns I failed to connect with anything much, so I called over to the little owl on my way back to the cottage, and was pleased to see it out. Initially it was in the usual spot, but after spotting something to drop down upon, it landed back lower down on the roof, and stayed put long enough for a few different images.

Surprised me how large their feet are!

When it returned to the usual spot, I approached for a few closer shots until the cold wind, and the time forced me back to pack up and head off. A tour of the harbours yielded nothing in terms of photos, and the gathering clouds and cold temperature persuaded us to head west and home.

For me the trip had been very productive, amassing many images to add to my stock library, but for Dad, it had reminded him that there is still a life to be enjoyed away from hospitals, and judging by his recovery over just a week, he can look forward to enjoying his retirement once again.

1 comment:

Norman Eames said...

Stunning photography