My bird world
Every photograph on my instagram page or in the galleries on the website have been taken locally. Having embarked on this journey of discovery at the start of Covid this to some extent was inevitable but to be honest it’s where I am happiest. In this post I thought I would talk a little bit about what local actually is for me.
I am aware how lucky I am to live where I do, particularly in respect of my obsession with bird photography. In a small village called East Preston in West Sussex, I am a ten minute walk from the beach, a ten minute cycle to the South Downs National Park and close to a number of coastal and inland RSPB reserves. The town of Arundel is also nearby. Sitting on the River Arun, this beautiful old market town has a stunning wetland centre, lake, river of course and is one of my favourite places for early morning bird photography. If all that wasn’t enough, when I need a break from the office desk for an hour (usually ends up as 2) I have a small local river reached by a short walk across fields, that offers continual interest.
I work from home (yes I do have to find some time to work, it’s a massive inconvenience) and I try to visit any one of these locations throughout the week, usually early morning. When I do I am always blessed by a continual display from a huge variety of birds. Each location provides something different, sometimes something surprising.
The local river
I love bird photography so much because you never quite know what you will see even when you have got to know a place. For example, the local river. To get there, a short walk across fields brings its own distractions, skylarks, pied wagtails, the occasional buzzard. A ten minute walk always takes thirty but then the river is reached. I have probably walked along that river path more than any other. It's my go to place when I need a break, to clear my head and get some fresh air. There are birds that I know I will see every time I go there, such as willow warblers, reed warblers, whitethroats, blackcaps, goldfinches, the list goes on.
Trees line the edge of the river, a mix of deciduous and evergreen and I know every time I will see herons and egrets roosting in one of the large conifer trees. As many as four herons and double figures of egrets have been seen in these trees, all hanging out together. It always makes me smile.
A little bridge spans the river and at a certain time of day I know I will always find an egret fishing underneath it, stirring up the mud with one foot and then spearing anything tasty that appears as a result.
These things I am now so familiar with and even spend time showing other people out walking, many who seem to be totally oblivious to the wildlife around them. I can’t tell you how many times I have been standing taking a photograph of the roosting herons only for someone to stop and say ‘what are you taking a picture of then, anything interesting?’ Hmm, I reply, just the three herons and four egrets up in that tree.
So these things I know I will see but so many times this one location will throw up a surprising first and it’s totally addictive. All the locations I mention here have that air of familiarity but also carry an element of surprise.
The beach always harbours a great selection of birds that changes through the seasons and I am only just beginning to learn what I will see there at certain times of the year.
It is never short of activity, with egrets and heron's feeding in the rock pools at low tide. Always plenty of gulls and crows and I can never get bored of watching and photographing them. I have taken sequence shots of both opening shellfish by repeatedly flying up high and dropping them onto the rocks below until the tasty meal inside is revealed. Fascinating to watch, challenging to capture. The seasons bring in different birds that over winter here such as turnstones and sanderlings, that then disappear again in the summer. It’s a constant rotation of visitors and a constant joy.
The South Downs
A ten minute cycle on my mountain bike takes me off road, through woodland and up on to the South Downs. The woodland trail takes in part of the Monarch’s Way, the famous escape route used by King Charles II after his defeat by Cromwell in the Civil Wars in 1651. It has a wonderful variety of birds and wildlife.
From there I can get right up onto the downs and the South Downs Way. It is genuinely beautiful downland countryside, graced by the presence of buzzards, red kites and kestrels, with the occasional hare trying to avoid their steely glare.
Bird’s of prey are my particular favourite and the South Downs never fails to deliver more than just a glimpse of these majestic birds.
Apart from being a stunning old market town with its mediaeval castle, Arundel is surrounded by beautiful countryside and sits on the banks of the river Arun that snakes its way through the county of West Sussex. With its wetland nature reserve and lake, early morning visits are becoming more frequent for me and this was where I finally got my first kingfisher shot. I also had an amazing ten minutes watching a heron catch and devour a trout, one of those unforgettable moments that I will document in a later blog. It’s a place bursting with wildlife and I am looking forward to seeing more of it as it changes through the seasons.
RSPB nature reserves (the not so familiar)
A relatively new discovery for me and along with my wife we have now joined as RSPB members. Our first visit was to Pagham Harbour Nature reserve no more than thirty minutes up the road, an internationally important wetland site for wildlife and one of the few undeveloped stretches of the Sussex coast. Stunning is the only word I can use, a place that instantly seduces you with its beauty, serenity and overwhelming abundance of wildlife. Nature in harmony. We have been a few times now but no amount of times will be enough.
There are inland reserves close by too, such as Pulborough Brooks, yet to be visited but eagerly awaited.
So there you have it, a small flavour of my bird world. A world I am so lucky to have on my doorstep. I will chat about all of these locations individually in future posts as each deserves much more page space than I can give them here.
Thanks for dropping in. If you want chat about your local spots, it would be great to hear from you. Just leave a comment.
IG - @a.bird.in.the.lens
E: [email protected]
A Bird In The Lens
I've loved photography from the moment I bought my very first SLR film camera, too many years ago to mention here without giving my age away. It was a Fujica STX-1 as I recall, bought with money saved from my first job and it got me hooked. I quickly moved on to a camera that genuinely taught me about the craft and one that still to this day is my favourite camera that I've ever bought. The Nikon FM2. Completely manual, it taught me so much about the relationship between apertures, shutter speeds and film speeds and to begin with the lessons were costly.
These were the days of loading a roll of film into the camera. You could buy rolls of 24 or 36 exposures films, the former being the most popular choice for me because of cost. When I started taking pictures I had to learn quickly because of course, unlike with today's digital cameras, you had no idea what your pictures would look like until they had been processed. This involved sending your roll of film off to a processing lab and waiting anything between 1-3 weeks for them to send you back a packet of prints (and a strip of negatives you could use for reprints) Inevitably as a complete novice I had no real idea of what I was doing and would happily click away at anything and everything I thought looked vaguely interesting, expecting every shot to be a masterpiece. I would then wait for my award winning photos to arrive only to receive a packet of 24 over exposed or underexposed blurry prints many of which were difficult to even make out what the original subject was. The learning curve was expensive but gradually I went from maybe getting one out of 24 that were worthy of being described as a photo, to two, three and then eventually being disappointed if I got more than 5 or 6 bad ones.
This wasn't something I learned overnight because even when I really began to understand about exposure and how to make adjustments for shooting subjects with bright backgrounds or in low light, or fast moving etc, I still had to learn about composition and what really makes a good image great. Being still just a keen amateur, I'm not sure even after all these years I have ever really cracked that part. I guess that is what always separates the amateur from the professional and why you can always tell one from the other. I do now know a great picture when I see one but as we all tend to be over critical of our own work (and I am very definitely in that gang) I wouldn't presume to label any of my images as great, but maybe it's not my place to do that or even worry about.
Much more than just about the picture
Over the years of learning and the enjoyment of just being behind a camera, I have found subject areas that have held my attention for longer than others, such as landscape photography. I got particularly passionate about the sky at sunset and sunrise and anytime I saw a moody one with interesting cloud formations. Holiday photography escalated from the daft family shots in the pool to wandering around the locality early morning to try and capture the essence of where we were staying. It is during these moments when I began to realise that photography was about much more than just the picture itself. It was about the moment and the experience. Of course the goal is really always an image you can be proud of, one that not only captures that moment but takes the person looking at it there too. It doesn't have to be a technical masterpiece but it hopefully tells a story or triggers an emotion.
As you can see by the above picture, I still have my Nikon FM2. It's in mint condition and I could never sell it as it started this journey for me and taught me so much. One of my sons showed an interest in photography at quite a young age and he also learnt on this camera. He is an adult now and we still share our passion for photography, swapping photos we have taken on a regular basis. I love that.
The moment that started it all off
So now I have a new subject area that I am passionate about. In fact it has, as my wife will confirm, become an obsession. It was triggered by 30 minutes or so watching and photographing a kestrel on the fringe of my local beach. The bird wasn't bothered by me standing directly underneath it as it had its eyes firmly fixed on the ground, searching for any sign of something to eat. I obviously didn't fit that criteria so it ignored me, not realising the total thrill I was getting from focusing on it through my lens. Once it had gone to find prey elsewhere, I sat on the beach with the realisation that this was what I wanted to concentrate on. Nothing else I had photographed over the years had given me that feeling of excitement and wonder.
Bird photography has become something that if I haven't been out for a day or two I get twitchy (no pun intended). Something that I absolutely love. And again, it is not so much about getting that award winning 'great' image but much more about just being out there amongst them. It is the experience of spotting them, watching them, seeing a bird you haven't seen before for the first time and then the absolute thrill of trying get a focus on them and capture the image. When I first saw a kingfisher and managed to lock on in my viewfinder, my hands were shaking so much the pictures were very definitely not great but it didn't matter. It is a moment I will never forget and that is the most important thing for me.
Appreciating the beauty of nature
I also find it has slowed me down when I am out walking and that's a good thing. I now am taking in the environment around me so much more, spending time looking at the trees, hedgerows, waterways, countryside and appreciating the beauty of nature as I search for anything feathered moving within it.
Bird photography takes me to some stunningly beautiful places. I am very lucky to live close to the sea and the South Downs National Park so I have a wonderful mix of locations including a number of RSPB nature reserves close by (we have recently joined as members). Early mornings in these places are moments of wonder, of peace, of excitement and I often share those moments with my wife which makes them all the more special.
So welcome to my blog. It's my first blog so forgive me if I don't abide by any must dos or don'ts when blogging. Here I will witter away about my time taking bird pics, sharing the experiences and showing you some of the places I go. Hopefully you will enjoy the read and find some inspiration within it too.
I may occasionally discuss camera gear too because as much as we all try to deny its importance and its draw, we are all really consumed by it. We love reading about it, dreaming about what we can't afford and always want to know what everyone else is using.
The website the blog sits on is really just a self indulgent place for me to build a gallery of images that I have taken and particularly like. A place to put them so they don't just sit in a large library on my laptop in no particular order of importance, amongst duplicates and duds. Family and friends can go there too in their own time and by their own choice instead of having them thrust in front of them every time they place a foot through my door. The site really has no other purpose than this. Of course if other people stumble across it and enjoy it then happy days.
If you have made it this far down the page then thanks very much, I really appreciate you dropping in. If you don't already, you can follow my instagram page where I add the odd funny caption if the image lends itself to one, hopefully provoking a smile or two. If you want to comment or get in touch to share bird related images and stories then I'd be delighted to hear from you.
IG - @a.bird.in.the.lens
E: [email protected]
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I live on the South Coast of England, close to the South Downs National Park and am totally obsessed with bird photography. I'm also passionate about bird conservation, addicted to good coffee and am very partial to a little nip of a smoky Islay whisky from time to time.