With the start of British Summer time upon us, there is a feeling of love in the countryside, animals displaying and showing off and saying ‘look at me’. This behaviour is mirrored in the human world also, in the hope to attract a female so their genes can continue upon breeding. With the clock going forward, the light will come up earlier in the morning and set later in the evening making those beautiful summer days last ages. Long gone now are those late starts as you wait for the sun to rise. I really look forward to the warmer months, the new life, animal behaviour and the many different and wonderful things you can witness within nature during our longest days of the year.
Here I took a wide angle of a lone male Marsh Harrier that was circling over our heads for some time, calling to the female who was hidden in the reeds. I wanted to convey the true beauty of that morning, with the low lying mist and Norfolk reed in the background. We then headed for cover where I show and teach clients how best to use what’s around you in order to disappear from view. The same male Marsh Harrier then dropped into the reeds in front of us all, where a mixture of watching the subject and following in camera resulted in us all capturing lovely images from that morning.
Camping out in the field, a small fire, favourite foods all packed away to maximise the space along with the many other items you carry as a wildlife photographer living in the field. I like to camp and be closer to the subject I am hoping to photograph, getting up for the light, spending those amazing first few hours of light engrossed in my work. After a long day I then like to head back to where I have made camp and start a small fire, get the little camping stove on, hot water,a strong sweet cup of tea, as I review the days events in camera. With so many things and subjects I am working on along with my one to ones and photo trips there is just not enough time in the day to get round to everything I wish to photograph, even with the extra light.
This week I have had a wonderful time with a lovely couple who travel the globe photographing wildlife. Sue & Rob from the UK. They booked me for two days to show them the beauty of Norfolk and all the places I know and have found during the many visits to this amazing county over many years. You always wish for the best weather for your clients in order for them to get the very best from the day(s) and the conditions during the two days, they could not have wished for better. A slight frost adding that little crunch under foot welcomed us on both days but the light and clear skies were what as a wildlife photographer you dream of. Many thanks to you both and I hope to see you on my Greenland or Tigers Trip next year.
Along with my Fox work, Brown Hares, Barn Owls and Dippers, I am also working on Great Crested Grebes, a bird I have loved for ages, their elegant pose, their beautiful marking and stunning plumage makes them one of the most handsome water dwelling birds in the UK in my eyes. They are the largest of the European Grebes and during the spring and summer they are such a striking bird, with their spectacular head, ruff and spiky head tuffs when they greet each other or display during courtship. Last year I photographed these birds at the same site but was unable to go back at the start of the breeding season due to commitments, so this year I’d hoped to capture them as they build their bond between each other and go through their amazing courtship dance where they dive for weed, surfacing with this in their bills and offer it to one another while sharply turning their heads back and forth.
Having spent some time there now, the lives of these amazing birds are played out before me, where they show real love and care for each other, when one goes out of sight the other calls in an attempt to locate its mate, such a strong bond which was so lovely to witness. I am using a hide on the shore to photograph this pair of Grebes; just on the water’s edge and not in the water as this disturbs the birds and other species of animals around too much. Getting there before the sun comes up, with the dawn chorus as my companion, each bird jockeying for their own patch, staking their clam to that bit of land. It’s such an amazing time of day and one you greatly benefit from for being among its beauty and peace.
The morning starts cold and sometimes there’s that morning mist lying low on the water adding an air of mystery to the place as you wonder what will come, always praying your chosen subject may just make a short and brief appearance for your morning efforts in getting into place.
Then a bird appears an unmistakable appearance, their head plumes held or raised aloft as they swim proudly on their way. The same head plumes compressed when the bird is alarmed or alerted to something, making their whole face area very streamline. Hours can pass with nothing, each bird fishing far and wide from each other, with the odd highly vocal call echoing around the lake. It’s a strong, rolling like call ‘crrra-ahrr’ repeated often and appearing very nasal in sound as the beak doesn’t really open during calling.
To witness their courtship weed dance was amazing and from know where the two birds would come together, something unseen triggering the need to display with each other in a moments flash. Swimming towards each other with great intent, and then rising up inches apart sharply turning their heads from side to side, climaxing in their penguin dance in which both birds raise their whole bodies upright from the water, breast to breast, just amazing to see.
The weed dance only happens a few times during the day and is so beautiful to see, poetry in motion as you witness each bird working to please the other in a real act of affection and love which for me was very touching to witness this very private and powerful moment.
This display is over as quickly as he begins in most cases, this pair are in the early days of courtship and building their nest, gathering twigs, and small branches and bringing them back to increase the size and shape of their nest. Occasionally they mate, only briefly at the moment but this will increase once the nest is finished. The male climbs onto the female, she flattens herself and a small call by the male advertises their brief period of mating before climbing off her.
In the coming weeks I do hope to capture those beautiful images you see with the Grebes chicks on the adults back, thumbing a lift around the lake while tucked under their wings. On some days I have stayed there until dusk some 16 hours almost in the hide, but with love in the air the place is alive with action and calls from other birds and surrounding wildlife so there’s really never a dull moment during the relentless waiting for the Grebes.
Whatever you choose to do good luck and remember the wildlife should always come before any photograph, with careful and respectful fieldcraft, the key with wildlife photography your efforts will be rewarded with those priceless and private moments you get into a wild animals life, capturing them with the camera just lets you record those times, all the best