Two trips due East from home to report!
With Covid 19 wave 2 lockdown tier restrictions looming for much of the country, navigating a path from our own Tier 1 home locations to other Tier 1 sites is becoming increasingly challenging!
Nonetheless, two trips East took me as far away (latitudinally speaking) from our recent mini-break in Cornwall as its possible to get without leaving the country.
First up was a solo trip to help Tom Robinson create some new and refreshed set ups at his popular Pond Hide, which regular readers of this blog will know, is a favourite location for both me and my Clients.
Tom's Pond Hide closes for a few weeks each Autumn - not least to give Tom a break, but also to get ready for a new winter season. I was able to join Tom for a couple of days with some lugging around of tree branches and providing less than competent help in constructing the new set ups for the visiting wildlife species who make it such a great place for wildlife photography.
The Otter family were bang on form and seemed to be enjoying the new 'bank and branch' set up Tom had built, offering great close up views of Otters oblivious to, or undistracted by our presence.
The Pond Hide is home to a highly successful Kingfisher pair. They produced two broods this year, providing a welcome boost to the local population. Always a pleasure to watch these colourful birds in action, no matter how many times you've seen them before.
A newly refreshed set up designed to encourage Sparrowhawk visits, was built and put to the test with immediate results. Whilst not one of the key focus species at the Pond Hide, it's a real bonus to get sight of one of the most beautiful UK birds of prey at close quarters.
All wildlife photographers look for a 'different' shot. The new set up provides for both the 'classic' perched shot, but also the chance to try and capture this most acrobatic of hunters as it twists and turns mid-flight in pursuit of its unfortunate prey.
I think Tom was pleased that we managed to capture both shots on our first time of trying and I'm sure there will be some great photographic captures of Sparrowhawk action in the coming months too.
I'll be running some workshops through the winter months, should aspiring wildlife photographers like some support on a visit to the Pond Hide, please make contact though my website pages, call me on 07778-998473 or email me at email@example.com for further details.
I should also report that the Tawny Owls and Heron were also both present, but as we were trying to give the new Otter and Sparrowhawk set ups a trial run, we focused there as a priority.
A great couple of days then, a new 'friend in photography' well met in Jim Taylor, master of camera trap photography techniques and likely to be responsible for my revised Christmas present list as a result!
Thanks to Tom for a great couple of days and I'll be sending over the bills from my Chiropractor any day now, having carried that huge branch across half of Lincolnshire ha ha !!
And so .... a week or so later .... Sarah and I headed off on a mini break to the North Norfolk coast, a beautiful little place to stay in Burnham Market, some truly amazing gastronomic experiences (Facebook friends have already seen this happy couple's holiday report) .. and of course some amazing British wildlife experiences.
The North Norfolk coast itself is pretty much one long stretch of nature reserve. The constantly evolving shoreline produces dramatic landscape and habitats, ranging from the open mud flats of the Wash, to the narrow gulleys and inlets within huge natural marsh areas.
The landscape has changed dramatically over the centuries, with whole villages disappearing into the sea and others once built on the shoreline and looking every inch a seaside town, now a mile or more inland as the marshland and reedbeds push the sea further away.
Wildlife of all kinds thrive here, with many species finding this the very best place in Europe to overwinter. The skies are full of skeins of Pink-footed Geese at dawn and dusk, as they travel from their feeding fields to and from their nighttime roosts.
A quick solo (and very windy) walk through RSPB Titchwell to the beach on the first afternoon, blew away the stiffness from a long drive, but was so windy that the hoped for sight of Bearded Tits, was inevitably fruitless.
In fact, I don't recall seeing the various fresh, brackish and saltwater marsh areas so short of wildlife.
The tide was in at the beach and it was almost too windy to hold the camera and lens steady. Lying flat on the sand delivered both better results and the inevitable wet jeans as a result!
A few quick shots of Sanderling and Oystercatchers secured, I headed back to a warm shower and the first in a series of lovely Dinners with Sarah.
The next day dawned with a promise to take Sarah to see the 'Snettisham Spectacular' across the Wash. I determinedly interpreted her thinly disguised reluctant enthusiasm as a green light for a forced march from the crowded car park, a wary eye on the storm clouds boiling darkly in the distance, to a vantage point over the endless grey/brown mudflat expanse, stretching into a watery distant horizon.
For a wildlife photographer, this is a 'must-see' event; for a patiently tolerant, but slightly bewildered wife of said wildlife photographer, its a real embodiment of affection to accompany their partner on such an excursion.
I hoped that I could repay her support with something truly worth the trek, into the vast open skies of the Wash.
From a wildlife point of view, things got off to a great start when we noticed a Skua or 'Bonxie' resting between the shoreline and the RSPB lagoons. Sarah alerted me to the point at which preening turned into take-off and we captured the moment.
1-0 to the Harris's v the elements.
We noticed a beautiful rainbow behind us, only gradually realising that it seemed to be coming closer in direct contravention of the BBC weather forecast, that had clearly promised 'dry all afternoon' weather.
The birders congregating on the shoreline seemed oblivious to this meteorological encroachment, transfixed as they were by the emerging wildlife spectacle offshore.
They were clearly looking in the wrong direction, evidenced by the torrential soaking we all received, 5 miles from shelter, in perhaps one of the most weather exposed spots in the UK.
Seated on the shingle beach, doing my best to keep camera body and lens from the worst of the downpour whilst trying to get shots of the murmuration of Knot, Curlew, Oystercatchers etc I looked up to see Sarah, stoically taking a drenching without so much of a murmur of protest. Sarah puts it down to having been a Girl Guide and 'having survived much worse', I put it down to her being a truly good egg ❤️
Sarah's new iPhone is also responsible for both these better landscape shots than mine and a video of the murmuration shown below.
In between the drenching downpours, the view was, as promised, spectacular.
I'd only seen this spectacle before at dawn high tides, so it was interesting to try and get some backlit shots into the sunset from the western facing shoreline vantage point, looking back across the Wash.
As always, I think l I'll do better next time, but here's a few I 'quite' like!
I notice that the vast numbers of birds in this years spectacle gained some national news coverage and I can heartedly recommend a visit, as they aren't too many places in the UK that delivers such a WOW moment.
A 'spectacular' Dinner at Socius in Burnham Market that evening, (truly excellent cooking *note for my foodie friends!), brought a great day to a delicious end. Sarah even reported being able to feel her fingers and toes again before bedtime, narrowly avoiding the hyperthermia risked during the afternoon - all good!
Our final day was a (relatively) less strenuous day than the > 20km of walking 'enjoyed' the day before.
A walk from Blakeney Point Beach around towards Cley was an altogether more relaxed affair. I took the camera with me on our walk 'just in case', a sound tactic recognised by all wildlife photographers. Usually, this strategy is also famous for only revealing that there was actually nothing to see to justify lugging a 500mm prime lens and camera body around with you, on a long walk!
In this 'just in case' case though ....
... a truly beautifully marked male Marsh Harrier tumbled into view, as we started our walk back to the car. I don't recall seeing a more stunning example of this Raptor, once extinct in the UK but now thriving in well managed habitat.
The hazy light, my slightly clumsy technique and just a little too much distance meant that what could have been some great images are merely, but happily, quite satisfying.
I know wildlife photographers are never truly happy with their work (there's no such thing as a perfect shot as Paul Goldstein always reminds), but if that's the quality of opportunity presented by wildlife on the North Norfolk coast, this photographer will have to return to try again for for that elusive (nearly) perfect shot.
So we reach the end of this blog post. Two great trips to lift the darkening mood of both season and society.
I already have plans for my own home-baked Sparrowhawk set up, having learned from the experience of helping Tom set up his.
Jim has inspired my to think about camera trap photography as a new skill to learn, reinforced by the fact that the largest and most prestigious wildlife photography competition, has just been won with a camera trap shot of a Siberian Tiger.
Tigers may be a bit thin on the ground in rural Warwickshire, but I can't wait to see what's possible here.
As for mini-breaks with Sarah, let's hope we don't have to draw on our survival instincts and experience quite so much next time - short flight to somewhere interesting and warm anyone ??