My favourite walk
In my intro post I talked about some of the places that I am lucky enough to live near and mentioned that all of them deserve more page space to really appreciate why they are special places for me. In this post I am going to take you on a walk that I do from my front door at least once a week. A walk that even if I see the same things, I never tire of. It is my go-to walk when I need a break from the office and one that always lifts my mood, soothes my mind and allows me to switch off completely.
I’m going to break it into two parts because that is how I sometimes walk it, depending on my time and the weather, and also because there are two quite different environments within the walk which both merit attention.
It is also a walk that makes me appreciate that you don’t always have to go to a specific nature reserve or high profile location to see a wonderful variety of wildlife. There is often so much literally on your doorstep if you just get out there and explore.
When I first got the bird photography bug I was taking hundreds of pictures of the sea birds on the beach and trying to learn the craft almost exclusively there. As the bug bit deeper and began to take over I started to seek out different locations and realised that each one presented different challenges. I went from herons to wrens and, as with their sizes, the difference in trying to photograph them is like night and day.
Sea birds on the beach and on the water present their own set of difficulties but the small birds are so hard to grab focus on and even harder to isolate from the complicated backgrounds that hedgerows, trees and foliage create. It was a whole new learning experience and it is on this walk where I have spent more time than anywhere else trying to master the techniques you need to take an acceptable image of a small bird. Suffice to say it is still a work in progress.
It is a simple walk. From my front door, a short distance through the residential area brings me to a path that leads to agricultural fields. The path is flanked by a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. An ordinary looking path but one that I quickly discovered is just full of life.
The end of the path opens out to fields that are full of wheat in the summer and ploughed furrows in the autumn and winter. Those changes of the landscape through the year sees different birds coming and going and it has been an absolute joy to record such a variety of birds on this small stretch of countryside. I’ve learnt so much, just here on this path and over these fields.
Once I had discovered that the trees along the path were bubbling with bird life, my first mission was to try and actually get an in focus picture of a small bird. I quickly discovered just how hard this was. Unlike on the beach, where I could get unobstructed views of the sea birds and could also get reasonably close to them, the challenges here became immediately apparent. Small birds just don't stop fidgeting, flitting from branch to branch, constantly moving their heads as they look for food or check for danger. They appear and disappear amongst the leaves and branches and then flee as soon as they get the slightest glimpse of anything alien to them, i.e. me. I had a lot to learn.
I had to learn to move more slowly, to be patient, to stand, to wait, to watch. I had to learn about timing, different focus techniques, the challenges of light or lack of it in foliage, about shadows thrown by branches and leaves. I had to learn about the time of day the birds are most active, how the weather conditions affect how active they are. I had to learn what birds I would see through the seasons as this small stretch of countryside changed either naturally or by a human intervention. If all that wasn't enough, I had to learn what really makes a good small bird photo and then actually take one.
As I said, a lot to learn and I'm not even a fraction of the way there yet but it's totally addictive, absorbing, hugely challenging and when you get it right, utterly rewarding. What makes it even more rewarding is watching nature's kitchen provide a varied menu of food and resources through the seasons for the birds and their young. Take a look at a little of this year's menu from the 'my favourite walk' restaurant.
Spring - the starter
Spring is a busy time with the birds finding a mate, building nests and feeding young. Fortunately, as the countryside literally springs into life, there is plenty of bedding to be found for nest building and a never ending supply of insects to feed the family on.
Summer - the main course
During summer, young birds are leaving the nests but still need feeding. Plants and crops provide seeds, while for some the juicy, soft flesh of snails or caterpillars makes a nutritious meal.
Autumn - dessert
Autumn dishes up a forest fruits dessert (and even dried fruit for those that like it) on hawthorn, elder, rowan and blackberry and the birds gorge themselves, stocking up with winter on its way.
A stress buster
So not a bad restaurant I think you'll agree and all of this I found along this short walk in the countryside. I have had so much fun not just learning about how to get a good photo of the birds but also from just standing and observing their activity as the seasons changed. It's been enlightening and if anyone reading this is trying to find a way to de-stress, I can't think of a better way.
I've seen such a variety of birds here and could have included literally hundreds of pictures in this post but you would never have got to the end of it, so I will continue to keep adding them to the galleries on the website and hope you will keep dropping in from time to time to see them. However, I have added a list at the end so do read on if you want to know.
So this is the first part of my walk and sometimes, if I can only blag an hour or so off work before someone notices, I will go no further than to the of edge the field, but that's OK because there is always something to see. (I work for myself so it's usually my customers that will be emailing or texting 'Steve. where are you?' My wife, bless her, knows where I will be if I don't answer the phone).
To be honest I could quite happily spend a whole morning just here (hmm have done, maybe more than once) and of course it is not just birds that frequent the place. I have also had the pleasure of watching a family of foxes that have a den on the edge of a field that is used for grazing horses.
To be continued ...
If I have more time then I will carry on. The path winds around the edge of the agricultural field, past a reed bound natural pond and down to a stream called Ferring Rife, that meanders down to the sea. (The word 'rife' is a Sussex dialect word that means stream).
We will carry on down the path in a future post. If you enjoyed the walk so far then look out for it, lots of fun with egrets and herons and also birds that I don't see on the first part of the walk.
List of birds I have seen (so far) on this part of the walk
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]
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]
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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.