On the promise of a high tide of 10m+ yesterday I visited ‘Parkgate’ on the Dee Estuary,Wirral,a 100 kilometre stretch of salt marshland.Little did I know how different this day would be to the many other hide tides I’ve attended over the years that didn’t really measure up to their name.The day started beautifully,with the sun shining bright and that crisp feel to the air.I had decided to hide within the reedbeds,choosing the highest point as not to be flooded out with the promised high tide.This beautiful female Stonechat came right up to me in her pursuit to see what I was hiding away in her territory,she stayed for a very brief second where I managed to capture a few portraits of her in the morning light as she perched on top of the reeds.
The beautiful sunshine was soon replaced with dark,angry looking clouds as you could see this weather front heading in shore alongside the predicted high tide around lunchtime.Very slowly at first the tide started coming in,over the years I’ve attended these promised high tides I ‘ve always been disappointed at how little they come in,while I’ve waited to photograph the many raptors that live and hunt over these marshes.With the wind picking up and the distant activity of the flocks of waders,ducks taking to the air as the encroaching tide covered their usual roosting spots,this felt different and indicated this day may measure up to its title.
As the water breaks over the edges of the marsh,flooding the small gullies it brings the wildlife closer to you,the birds start to take flight to avoid the oncoming tide,and waiting predators,small mammals retreat to higher ground escaping the high tide briefly as they’ll be forced to move again later on.With all this wildlife moving it attracts predators in vast numbers, ie Gulls,Crows,Rooks,Kestrels,Peregrine Falcons ,Short-eared Owls,and many more all waiting for mother nature to do their work for them in locating prey,giving away their positions as they flee the water,then swoop down for the easy pickings,as they are to preoccupied in survival, a cruel trick of nature for the small mammals you never normally see.A Short-eared Owl waits for movement as the tide is seen covering the land below.
Ground predators get involved in this bounty to,this Fox had gone out before the tide had reached it’s peak to feast on one of the easiest meals he’ll have during the year.Unfortunately he became cut off from the mainland,preoccupied in feeding.I managed to capture a few images of this moment,also with a short film showing him wet, shivering and freezing with one of the main gullies of water being fed by the tidal currents in front of him.Forcing him to stay put rather than chance swimming for the shore and being swept away in the very strong currents
He did however escape later on as the tide went out and the sun came out the image below shows him fleeing,hopefully having learnt his lesson.
As the available land diminishes beneath the sea water, the mass of tiny,furry creatures with their disheveled coats cling onto the last high ground in an attempt of steer desperation as the tide reaches its height,the last remains of vegetation are covered with the lucky ones who’ve made it to the walls of the reserve,the less unfortunate ones have either drown or been pick off by the predators.Below are a few images I took as the rodents-Field Vole,Common Shrew, made their way to the shoreline where I was standing,the brick wall of the reserve can be seen in some.I did help to fish out a few with a make shift pole made out of reed as some looked up at me I was concerned I’d give them a heart attack, but it was better than seeing them drown.
These where the unlucky ones below,mother nature I know but on such a large scale as this day it shocked me to the core.
I went to Parkgate yesterday with a clear mission to photograph Short-eared Owls and other raptors feeding on this plentiful bounty which hide tide gives them a few times a year,what I came away with was a real story of survival and suffering on one hand ,on the other the power of nature and the food chain stained by the days events for me.The hide tides attracts alot people,yesterday being no exception of which most where unaware of this suffering around/below them as they ticked of the number of birds they’d seen,with the ever present thrust of seeing new species at the forefront of the minds.I needless to say went home really saddened by what I had seen during the day and I have tried to convey that here with the images I took on the day, almost like a reporter capturing someone in their final hours.It was the first time in 3 years I had seen a tide so high, helped along by the wind reach the shoreline in this manner,with the winners and losers played out before my very eyes,to watch animals forced into this ‘Do or Die’ sacrifice was hard for me to stomach as a wildlife photographer where the welfare of nature becomes before anything.