A special moment
I have mentioned and continue to mention that for me, bird photography is all about moments. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered about the quality of the image and that every time I pressed the shutter button I didn’t want that image to be stunning, for the composition to sit perfectly and for it to be bang on in focus. Of course I do. That is why I continue to try and improve, to learn new techniques and follow and watch photographers that I can learn things from.
This in itself is a part of the journey and one that I will talk more about in future blogs. If I look back to when I started, which to be honest isn’t that far (May 2020), I can already see how much my bird photography has improved. Some of these improvements have been subtle but to my eye and hopefully others too, some have been drastic. To demonstrate that will take a blog on its own and I will maybe write that next. The theme of this post is the special moments that the journey so far has gifted me, one in particular.
In my previous blog I wrote about location and the places that were local to me, the town of Arundel being one of them. As well as being a beautiful old market town, Arundel sits on the banks of the River Arun and is surrounded by beautiful countryside. A little way out of the town there is a wetland nature reserve and lake divided by a small country lane. The short journey there takes you over a bridge which spans a small tributary that runs into the River Arun. On one side of this little bridge there is a mill pond and it is here that one of those chance, rarely repeated moments, presented itself.
More often than not, my visits to Arundel through the summer months have been very early mornings. Aside from wanting the place to myself so I can bask in the tranquility, the light as the sun comes up lends itself beautifully to waterside bird photography. On these visits I seem to have adopted a very similar routine in the way I walk the area.
Always, I walk around the lake first to watch the various waterfowl waking up to take breakfast. I might catch a glimpse of a woodpecker or two in the trees that surround it and there is always a great variety of woodland birds to be seen, not only in the trees but in the bramble patches and damp areas of ferns that thrive on the banks bordering both sides of the pathway. Marsh tits, wrens, willow warblers, great tits, blackcaps, all waking up to feed on the insects that are highlighted in the sun’s rays as it rises.
Next it is round to the mill pond which is enclosed by a flint wall and camouflaged by the various trees and shrubs that surround it. A small waterfall feeds into it and the river that it becomes disappears from view as it bends around under the bridge and continues down towards the River Arun. Once I have had my fill of the millpond I then walk the path that runs alongside this small tributary and work my way down the beautiful river Arun, both of which I will highlight in a future blog.
So that is a typical morning visit to Arundel, let’s get on with the story.
I always approach the millpond on tiptoe because it was here that I first saw and photographed a kingfisher. On a few occasions prior to that I had scared it off, being too clumsy in my enthusiasm to get there, so now I literally inch my way and peer around the overhanging foliage that tumbles over the corner of the old flint wall.
This particular morning, I peered round and instead of spotting a kingfisher I disturbed a grey heron that was standing in the middle of the pond and it immediately took off and flew down the river towards the bridge. So I did what I always do, I sat for a while in a little spot hidden by the greenery and breathed in the ambience of this idyllic little pond, enjoying as I’m sure everyone does, the calming sound of running water. Having taken some pictures of the stunning little grey wagtails that bob around between the rocks and the plants I decide to continue on my normal jaunt down the river path.
To do that I have to cross the road and join the path by the bridge which I always do without crossing the bridge itself. I never deviate from this route but for some reason this morning I did. For the first time I went onto the bridge with the thought in my head that the heron might still be close by and looking back towards the mill pond, there he was. Standing in the middle of the river, looking very focused and alert. He didn’t spot me so, leaning on the stones of the bridge I took a few shots. The light wasn’t too bad, a bit dark as the sun was only just getting high enough in the sky to break through the trees and touch this part of the river.
He started to move and walk back down to the mill pond, working his way to the edge of the river where overhanging foliage was throwing shade across the water.
I was very aware at this point that he was hunting, lower now in stance, he was totally focused on a point in the water, so I followed him in my camera viewfinder, finger hovering on the shutter button. And then it happened, like an explosion. He struck with such speed and his head disappeared under the water, emerging seconds later from the spray the sudden attack had thrown up with what looked like a good size fish in his grasp. I was shooting this, very aware that he was in the shade and the images weren’t going to be great but hey, I was watching it close up through my telephoto lens so who cares, it was just epic to watch.
Then it got better. The sun was now shooting beams of light through the trees creating little patches of bright on the water. The heron stood upright and began to walk back to the centre of the river with what I could now see was very definitely a trout speared by his beak. What a catch, what an amazing thing to witness.
I wasn’t even aware there were trout in the pond and I have to be honest, even in the euphoria of witnessing such a wildlife wonder, I did feel a tad sorry for the fish. He was still alive, struggling to escape from the beak that had speared him with such devastating accuracy. As he did I found myself willing the heron to move into one of the patches of sunlight so that I could get a better shot. Usually wildlife has a habit of doing exactly the opposite to what you want but this time, incredibly, the heron obliged and I was able to keep shooting, the motordrive working overtime.
He continued walking, the trout losing its strength, resigning itself to its fate.
I must have fired off a hundred shots but by doing so I was able to capture those moments all the way through to him manoeuvring the fish so that he could swallow it down whole.
I’m still not quite sure how he unspeared it and repositioned it without dropping it but the whole operation was obviously very well practised and so slick.
It was all over within a minute and he looked so pleased with himself when it was. I stood there on the bridge, hands slightly shaky as I was so excited by what I had seen, hoping above hope that I had got a shot worthy of the moment. It was a moment that will always be etched in my memory.
The images as you can see certainly aren’t the best, they are carrying a bit too much noise, the ISO higher than you really want but to worry about that would be a shame. It really was all about an unforgettable moment...
As ever, thanks for dropping in. I hope you enjoyed sharing this moment with me. Feel free to leave a comment or to get in touch.
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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.