|Posted by basilfishcakes on November 18, 2011 at 6:45 PM|
From my last blog entry it is clear that, photographically speaking, I have had little time. On reflection of 'my year of birds' it becomes apparent that I have concentrated, therefore on rarer birds, lifers and owls. It is often the case with the more scarce visitors that your first intention is to see them, then get a reasonable record shot and then if you're lucky enough, have the time and the bird obliges get something a little better.
My year, from this perspective, got off to a flyer, as they say! 1st of Jan....Waxwing! A lifer, a rarity and a beautiful one to boot. You really couldn't wish for more. This also worked in the sequence described in my opening paragraph. Having seen them first and recorded them photographically, high up on a TV aerial it was then down to maximising an opportunity to get the best shot I could. Eventually there was one bird feeding on fallen apples in a garden. I got the permission of the owners and laid in wait.
This was my pick of the bunch.....What a bird and what a start to the year. Click here for more waxwing images.
In February I found myself on several evenings gravitating towards an area where Barn Owls often show well. With or without camera didn't seem to matter....I just love watching them go about there beautiful but deadly business. Because the window of opportunity to photograph these birds is so short it became the ideal, if not frustrating target, as time was of the essence in my increasingly busy life.
One of the images I captured during that time was born of said frustration and relied heavily on luck as well as foresight. I had spent the usual hour sat in wait, many other photographers had also 'set up shop' in the same area. It had been an evening of perfect light and conditions but the owl had not come within range once. To be honest I was a little disappointed, not least by the constant movement and chattering of my fellow birders. I know camo and being discreet isn't for everyone but with a camera that takes 9 shots a second....if it buys you an extra second then you might just get the shot! Who knows.
Anyway, the side of the hill had fallen into shadow so I made my way upwards and feeling a little dejected when I was greeted by the most spectacular of sunsets. I stopped and set up imediately thinking about only one thing....What if? What if the owl drifts across this skyline now? What if it hovers right there infront of the big red sun? It was only going to be five more minutes so why not wait...just in case?
I called it 'Spirit of Evening'. Birdguides picked it as their Photo of The Week, which was an honour. They said.....
"With so many stunningly detailed owl photos being uploaded to BirdGuides, it's hard to take one that stands out from the crowd. In fact, some of the world's leading wildlife photographers now take the view that there are so many good photos of so many creatures that the only option is to go for photos that are 'different', rather than 'better'. Chris Bale's beautifully atmospheric image of a Barn Owl hunting at sunset shows how productive this approach can be. Firstly, including the sun in the image instantly sets it apart from 99.99% of bird images. Doing so isn't usually possible or advisable but, when the sun is dimmed as it sets, there is a very brief window of opportunity to use it as a compositional element. Obviously, you then need a co-operative subject in the same general direction, which is where the combination of luck and skill really comes into play. With a well-thought-out composition, Chris placed the sun off-centre at the very bottom of the frame, making the most of the owl flying into the frame in front of a backdrop of warm tones graduating down to the natural vegetation. The result is a magical and memorable image."
I have two highlights for March. Firstly, a rarity and one of the most identifiable birds in Europe and secondly the results of one of my only 'projects' of the year.
The Hoopoe is a great bird. As stunning as it is perculiar it makes a fantastic target for photography. When I got the call about this one, from a friend, I couldn't wait to get there at first light and have a go. When my nightshift had finished I headed down there with a head full of possibilities.
It had taken up 'residence' in the back garden of a 94 year old lady. Spritely is not the word...straight talking and wonderful, she granted me permission to enter her garden. The ground was sodden and cold but I set up and laid there for quite some time before I gave up! The bird had not been seen since first light and I was cold, dis-heartened, hungry and tired....as you can probably guess, this is not me at my chirpy best! So I went for a walk about for half an hour, gathered my thoughts.....And talked myself into returning. Afterall, I had first dibs on this bird and if I didn't get the shot....someone else would. That was all the motivation I needed. I got back down and waited.
Worth the wait? You bet Ya! See more Hoopoe shots here.
The second March moment came over a three day project which only lasted three days because of the combination of incompetence, stuborness and the very tricky antics of the subject. One of my favourite birds, the Firecrest, winters in Guernsey. I had spotted a couple that seemed to be hanging on a bit longer than the rest and I decided that, as they were in one of the quieter locations on the island, I might get a decent shot or two.
Silbe NR is a beautiful and tranquil place. I often visit just to sit and be quiet. Anyway, after much persistence I got the shots I was after of this tiny thing of beauty...possibly my favourite shots of the year!
April saw the beginning of Spring and all the anticipation that comes with it. The weather was simply stunning with day after day of glorious sunshine and warmth. Unfortunately that seemed to give migratory birds absolutely no reason to stop on our shores and bar one or two exceptions everything just flew straight over! That would be my explaination. There was a Woodchat Shrike that stuck around for a few days or so and that was a fantastic little bird...I'm not altogether thrilled with the images I got, but they're there to be improved upon. Click here for more images of this bird.
The start of May was spent in France on a family holiday.....A beautiful time of relaxation and fun with the occassional photo opportunity. Some great views of Montagu's harrier, Hen Harrier, Little Owl, Cuckoo, Hoopoe and Turtle Dove....not to mention the Cirl and Corn Buntings, Buzzards, Jays, Deer and plethora of other wonderous
However, on return to Guernsey there was a Black-Winged Stilt at Pulias Pond. This is a bird I have missed on at least two previous occassions......I was determined to get it this time. It was a lengthy process but I did it right and I got the shot I really wanted in the end.
I have already described this in great detail on my blog and you can read it (and see a bonus Little Egret image) by clicking here.
June and July were non events, for me from a birding perspective. My daughter, Gwendoline, was growing fast and my focus was really on family, home and getting married. What a beautiful and memorable summer it was. Our wedding day was perfect and to celebrate our love with friends and family was so special. Click here to see my favourite image of Gwendoline.
August brought with it a return to birding and photography......My first opportunity, in what seemed like an age, was an absolute cracker. A barn owl (again) but with a rainbow looming large in the background was irresistable.
It's not the shot I anticipated but after a little longer and some very slow approach work I got this image.....I think it's probably my best to date. What a bird and what an encounter. My enthusiasm and passion flooded back as I returned to my car with a smile from ear to ear.
Another rarity and lifer marked September's highlight. A small American wader whose unfortunate demise, at the paws of a domestic cat, bought it more fame than it's understated appearance and low key existence! The weather was fairly inclement at the time and the limited opportunities that I had to try to get shots probably coincided with the worst of it. Never-the-less, given the conditions, the fact that it is rare and the sudden nature of it's departing, I don't believe I could have done much better. The Pectoral Sandpiper.
September also saw the only pelagic trip that I went on this year. You can read my account and see my shots here. Sabine's Gull was the pick of the bunch!
For someone who is always 'on the lookout' and keen, I have a woeful record of finding rarities. However, in October I turned up a Rose-Coloured Starling in amongst a local flock. It is a bird of eastern Origin and a long way from home, here in Guernsey. Naturally I was delighted to have found something of interest to other local birders. The photos aren't anything to shout about as the bird spent most of it's time on roof tops and chimneys. Still....pretty cool!
And so to November and at the time of writing I am keenly anticipating a winter full of Lapwing, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Golden Plover...maybe even more Waxwing opportunities, who knows? But this month has bought with it, so far, very mild conditions with the weather being driven by South Easterly winds. This brought my most recent subject, rarity and lifer....A Desert Wheatear to our shores.....photographed in what became tricky conditions (as regaled in my blog) this little gem was worth every second of my time.
And there you have it....2011 in photos. Ofcourse there are more than these and those who have followed my stop/start year will have seen many other shots. One of them I will leave with you and is something a bit different. It was taken way back at the start of April and captured one of those moments when you realise just how lucky you are to be alive. I have attached the words it inspired in me, also.
As the first sleepy rays of sunlight pierced the heavy, hanging mist to liberate the sodden world below from the crude, cold shackles of night, a Marsh Harrier drifted purposefully across the glistening dew laden meadows. It's silent silhouette serving as a shadowy reminder, to all, of his prowess and majesty.
I shuddered in awe as I watched it deliberately and effortlessly manoeuvre; magnificent and masterful, subtle and stealthy. The warmth of the car heater, now a distant memory, had been replaced by a dank chill, hazy but tangible with anticipation.
From the haunting call of a single curlew, vague and distant, came a gradual crescendo of sound building to a cacophony of noise. A thousand voices each celebrating every conquering shard of light that warmed my face and lungs. The Chiffchaff’s descant melody the Cetti’s explosive staccato bursts, my ears were ringing to nature’s orchestra. Were they performing this overture just for me? I shuddered a second time.
The world seemed at peace and in good order, but I knew that would only last until I read the headlines on the news paper display at the garage. So I just pretended, whilst I could, that I was the last man alive and if I wanted to contribute to this dawn chorus, then I should….I hummed Alcoholiday by Teenage Fanclub but at a rather reverent level.
My heart was filled with the joy that the robin and the wren expressed so colourfully against such a foggy monochrome backdrop. I was driven by the absolute thrill of being alive and I wanted to share it. I’d made it through the night and I wanted everyone to know that I would live that new day to the full…and not just because it could have been my last. No, no, no…but because I could and I should, as an example to those who can never see beyond their doom-saying tabloids, the rising price of petrol and their own consumer driven misery.
The marsh harrier had long since disappeared from sight but in that brief yet glorious encounter I felt both humbled and empowered. Humbled by realising my place in the world, empowered by realising I had one.