Hen Harrier day 2018 was celebrated all over the country with many events staggered over two weekends marking this special day. Since the first Hen Harrier day back in 2014 this event has gone from strength to strength as the public have become more aware of the cruelty on our moorlands. The destructive nature of driven grouse shooting on the lead up to, during and after is killing so much wildlife and leaving us with a controlled, managed landscape that only benefits the landowners.
I make no secret on my website of my great passion and love for owls, they are so beautiful to watch as they go about their lives. From the days when I was made to wear my knitted woolly hat that my mum had made for me, before I ventured out. Owls have always fascinated me. I cannot put into words why I love this species of bird so much, I’ve grown up with them, consider them an integral part of my life.
Over the last four months there has been a great number of Short-eared Owls around the country, giving many people close encounters into their normally secret moorland lifestyles during the breeding season. Where there are Short-eared Owls you will often find Barn Owls sharing the same area and also many other raptors, none more so than at the Dee Estuary.
I have visited this area for many years and if you get lucky on your visit you can be treated to a bounty of raptors. The best days are at high tides where alot if not most of this reed bed and marshland can be covered with the approaching sea water. You can have some wonderful views of all these birds, but I have also been many times and seen very little. When things come together though its one of the best places to see all of these raptors in one given area.
In March’s issue of the Bird Watching magazine there are several pages of my images and wording describing this powerful event in nature’s calendar, one that often leaves me shocked and upset at the things I witness, but at the same time I realise this is Mother Nature at her best and worst all rolled into one.
If you would like to read the article then click here, and my thoughts are expressed in the text and through the images printed in one of my favourite magazines. I hope you enjoy the article. Thank you to the guys at the Bird Watching magazine for doing such a great job on the article and layout.
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.