Wednesday 29 January 2014

Ibis Impatience

A comment I hear often from friends about my hobby is "I don't know how you have the patience for it", and it has to be said, I do have some patience when it comes to getting photos of wildlife. I have to often wait for the subject to appear, wait for the weather to be bright enough for a photo, wait for other factors to be right, like how close the subject is, if I have a clear view, if it's not being scared off by other things, etc. etc. And I have had some seemingly insane sessions of having to wait, for example, for a bittern to show, for over 6 hours, in a freezing cold hide in the middle of winter, only to see it for about 30 seconds.

Therefore I was quite surprised at how impatient and annoyed I became when, arriving at some horse paddocks in Brownhills, to find for the second time running that the glossy ibis that had been entertaining many a visitor, had again flown off. Not to be seen again that day. The previous attempt had been with Dave Hutton, and we'd searched fruitlessly for it around the surrounding area.

Again, I'd arranged to meet Dave, and had sent him a text to warn him, but he didn't read it before arriving, and after realising the bird wasn't there, called me a Jonah, and left! I was so peed off at again missing the bird, I could barely bring myself to speak to another visitor, so scuttled back to my car. I think part of it had been because I had had a task to do earlier in the day, and having waited to do that, meant I'd missed the ibis, and in good weather.

So when an opportunity to visit the site for a third time arose, I was reluctant to bother, if I'm being honest. But I did, and upon walking through the gate I was relieved to hear from the folks there already, that the ibis was still present, albeit in the back field.

Gear grabbed, I joined the group watching it from a distance. The problem then was, I already have a good few pics of a glossy ibis from the one at Hungerford, so getting shots on a cloudy morning from about 100 yards wasn't appealing. No-one was willing to approach the second field, which may have been down to them not wanting to spook it. But then one of the girls from the stables strolled past, up to the second field with a horse, and back past us again. The ibis, much like the one at Hungerford, didn't bat an eyelid and stayed put. I asked the others if they were going to go for a closer look, and if they minded me going. They didn't mind, but chose not to follow me over.

While I was now a fair bit closer, the light wasn't great, and bits of mist drifted through. The ibis seemed content to probe for food in the small puddles made by the horses' hooves, occasionally taking flight when the gulls and magpies went up first. Whilst watching it, I tried to get something of a more artistic shot, with a horse also in the shot. Sadly, as I took the photo, the horse decided to empty its bladder, and the resulting image wasn't really worth airing!

Eventually it decided to fly over to the first field, which was where all the others were patiently waiting. I crept around the hedge to get a view, and hoped the light might improve to get at least some reflection shots, while it paddled in one of the flooded areas of the paddock. By the time the light did start to improve, the ibis had decided to take a wash, and was splashing away all the mud from the other field, from itself.

Then spent some time, strutting about with its wings stretched out, to dry them off.

And then flew back to the other field, just as the light started to improve considerably. Typical, so we all thought. I grabbed a shot when a rare beam of sunlight caught the ibis, though it was still at distance.

Would it ever come closer? Thankfully yes was the answer, and back it flew to the first field, and landed much closer than before. I have to admit to being a little envious of the photographers who were now in the best spot, but I refrained from approaching them, to allow them to reap their reward for their patience. However, when an elderly couple strolled past me and past the ibis, to the other group, I decided to chance it too, and as before, the ibis ignored me.

Now on the right side for the occasional sunlight, I could get the sort of shots I had hoped for.

It was now a case of waiting for some decent light, and ensuring the focal point was on the head of the ibis, which was now filling the frame.

Thankfully the little joystick on the back of the 7D makes moving the focal point around simple, and I set the frame up, and waited for the ibis to line its head up with the point, to grab the shot I wanted.

When it took time to pose, this task was made even easier, and I soon noticed the shot counter falling and not returning to 22, meaning I had almost filled the card!

Card swapped, and I grabbed a couple more before the ibis strolled off, further away again. But I had taken far more shots than expected, and after looking at the approaching clouds, decided to head back.

So, once again, this third visit proved that a little patience and determination, usually yields rewards. And my mood had improved with them.

Friday 24 January 2014

Shrike & Smew Help A Slow Start To 2014

After welcoming in the New Year with excessive drinking, followed by a dreadful hangover, I was hoping to get cracking on trips out and about on cold, frosty, sunny days. Hmm. 2014 started as 2013 ended. Wet. In fact, for the first week of the year I failed to go anywhere or take a single photo. All very depressing.

Sure I tried to get out in breaks between the downpours, finding a huge flock of finches on the Lickey Hills, for example. Alas, even though they were all around me, and perched on the roofbars of my car, it was so gloomy I'd have needed a spotlamp attached to my lens to even work out what I was looking at, let alone get a decent shot.

I did try for the little owls one morning, though it was cloudy. Found them both, got some pics of one before it flew off, and almost, despite having a 4x4, got stuck on the verge.

Thankfully after the slow start, I managed to find time to get out when the sun was out, even if it only allowed a break at lunch, to visit the local great grey shrike. This has proved to be a real draw for visitors, and it's rare to drive past the area without seeing at least one person, scanning the fields for the bird.

After starting out at the back of the plantation, the shrike began to favour the area nearer the road, which was not only better for the light for photos, but also meant no need for a very muddy walk along the canal, an even muddier hike around the fields, and of course prevented me from being labelled an egotistical, money-shot-grabbing *insert expletive here of your choice*, as I was so generously called after my first sortie into the public area.

If the shrike wasn't around though, often the buzzards, kestrels or local sprawk would provide some entertainment. The latter usually pursued by crows.

I didn't solely focus on the shrike though - with one sunny day forecast, I decided to head over to Draycote Water, to see if the smew and great northern diver were around. It was relative calm for the area, and whilst walking along the path, I took advantage of some goldeneyes fishing close to the shore, with both male and female present.

The smew was easy to find, as it glows in sunshine.

And was lovely to see with some blue water, unlike the last one I photoed.

Alas the diver remained distant, but I managed to capture some mergansers, both bobbing around, and also taking flight.

Back to the shrike challenge. Getting a shot of it was still a case of being there at the right time, and in the right place. My first decent shots came after deciding to wander up the path, away from everyone else, to see if I could see it from the top of the hill. I could, but it was still distant. Then, as another birder scrambled up the embankment to join me, the shrike chose to fly much closer. I grabbed some shots, and tried (in vain) to wave to everyone down the road, to come closer. God knows what drivers going by thought of someone stood facing a hedge, waving an arm around frantically...

It was still nowhere near as close as the one at Napton, but flew a bit closer still, and I finally bagged some half decent shots. Far better than those from late last year, when the light was at such a nasty angle.

And with a blue sky behind. Arguably rarer than the shrike!

Walking back down to rejoin the others, after the shrike flew off, of course, I felt bad that I hadn't been able to attract their attention - if only I could whistle! I can't. I've tried. I just blow air and look more stupid than usual.

Thankfully the shrike flew closer again, but this time where everyone was waiting, and allowed more shots to be taken, although not quite as close as before.

That changed when it flew into the lower field, and landed right next to the hedge. Agonisingly though, the wrong side of the sun, so it was backlit. With a fair bit of post-processing, I managed the shot below, but not great.

Most subsequent visits were brief, usually helping new visitors to locate the bird if they didn't know where to look. When it was staying distant, I'd just go home. But on the last visit, again the bird was sat at the back, I spotted a group of birders at the wrong layby, so called them up and showed them the shrike. Annoyingly I hadn't got my gear out when the shrike flew at us, and over our heads into the fields behind. I drove round to see if I could locate, failed, and returned to find the birders had left. It was then that I spotted the shrike had returned, and was sat, pretty close to the path! And with the light behind me too.

With the place to myself, and no-one to offend, I took a few shots, walked up the path to get closer, took some more, and so on, until I was as close as I could get, without being in the field. Like the bird has any perception of the hedge as being an acceptable boundary! But, it does provide something of an object to hide behind, perhaps.

From here I could take a few shots, as the shrike maintained balance on the thin perch, moving in the breeze.

I moved around slightly to get a different backdrop to the shots.

I even took some video footage of it, but like a muppet, forgot to tighten my tripod head in place, and halfway through the clip, the breeze blew the lens off target, sending the shrike off the left of the screen. I don't think John Aitchison has anything to worry about just yet!

But at least 2014 was finally up and running.