|Posted by basilfishcakes on May 4, 2012 at 7:35 PM|
Hi folks...Well the Spring migration has been and gone now and I grabbed as many opportunities I could to get out and about with my camera. The seasonal passage of migrants, once it finally began, seemed bumper this year by way of shear numbers of more common species. Literally hundreds of Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Meadow Pipets and my favourite, the Northern Wheatear, which is the star of this entry.
What a bird. It is always one of the first hirundines to pass through and always sparks a frenzied response (from me anyway) which often means I get a bit too excited, too early. The following month, whilst full of anticipation, tends to drag a bit but atleast I can always find a Wheatear to keep my spirits up!
The male birds tend to pass through first, eager to get prime locations at their breeding sites, no doubt. I have to say that a smarter looking bird you'll be hard pushed to find. With their upright stance, slender build and dashing plumage they are truly stunning. The 'mask' just about finishes it off. Like the avian equivalent to Antonio Banderas in Zorro this handsome creature really has it all.
The female of the species is, by comparison, no Catherine Zeta Jones, let me tell you. But she is a thing of beauty none-the-less.
These birds, therefore, must be one of the most photographed in Britain. With their striking looks and their willingness to pose these 'Hollywood' migrants are irresistable to the nature paparazzi. Which is why I'm sharing this blog. I have been fortunate enough to get right up close and personal with some Wheatear over the last few weeks. As I already stated there seems such a volume of birds on the Island that everywhere you go (providing as you can sit still for an hour) there are Wheatear who will oblige in providing at the very least some spectacular views.
As I mentioned, by sitting still and waiting, opportunities will come your way. This was taken at a well known site, using my car as a hide. With my tripod set up on the passenger side of the car it is a great way to get shots. Not always possible to get a low angle, so picking your site well is essential. In the shot above a raised mound of rubble put this bird at the perfect height...my outstanding parking put the car at the right distance for this full framed shot. For once the 'busyness' of this image actually helps place the bird in context with it's environment but more often than not a smooth diffused background would be a preference.
The next shot is a prime example and this time a different technique for getting level with my subject. I watched this bird returning to the same patch whenever it was disturbed at various points along a well known walkway at Fort Doyle. It is a great place to see Wheatear, Black Redstart and Meadow Pipits amongst other birds like Grey Plover. Anyway, it is also a popular place for dog walking, jogging, mountain biking etc which means getting a bird to sit still, or having the time to slowly approach one doesn't work. What works is watching where the birds go when they're disturbed. If you set up and wait there then eventually you are guaranteed an opportunity.
This bird consistently flew back to the same patch. With a shear ledge at the end of the grassy headland it was perfect to set up at ground level keeping all but my camera and the top of my head hidden. As it grew ever more confident with my presence it edged nearer, eventually coming within 8 or so feet of my poised camera and lens. I'm pleeased with the shot and the thought that went into getting it. A well executed plan.
Sometimes all the planning in the world can't prepare you for a situation. The following shot was taken from my car, with the same principle I explained earlier. However, when your subject is whacked at immense speed by a Sparrowhawk whilst you're sat waiting for it to hop ever nearer your 'hide', the best you can do his hit the trigger and hope!
It's one of those things that reminds you how nature works and the fine line between success and failure, life and death. I had experienced, only a few mornings prior to this, one of the coolest things ever. I was again watching a Wheatear, a female sat in the top of a short tree on a pathside. Suddenly, she stooped and called before flying off at speed. I was sure she had not been bothered by my presence, I'd been stood there for 3 or 4 minutes and set up my tripod, my immediate reaction was to spin around with my camera, which as always, was mounted on said tripod. What I saw staring down the lens and hurtling towards me was a male sparrowhawk; eyes fixed on something but not our wheatear which had obviously moved. It's course didn't deviate as it passed by my head so close that I felt the turbulence and heard the 'whoosh' as it accelerated by. It dissappeared between two trees and I didn't see it come out the other end but what an awesome experience. The photo that I did get is far from perfect but the best I could do in such short time. It gives a real sense of that fixated stare that must have been the precurser to many-a-small birds demise.
I know I just wandered off topic slightly, for this I apologise but I'll leave this entry with one more image. It's a female Wheatear in just about perfect evening light and it demonstrates, for me, the cross over between art and bird photography. The more I learn and practice the more I realise that it's great to get a good photo of a bird, but it's better to get a great photo with a bird in it. This is ever increasingly my goal. Take care for now. Basil Fishcakes.