The Murmuration

  • March 20, 2017 9:08 pm

You may have noticed from my Facebook page that I have had the most amazing luck to find a Starling murmuration on my way home from work. If you’ve never witnessed a murmuration before, I strongly suggest you go and see one next Winter as it is one of the most enthralling spectacles in the natural world.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to get some photos, which has not been that easy, but here are the results!

I first witnessed the murmuration in February just as my journey home from work was beginning to lighten and despite the stormy skies a huge flock of Starlings swirled above the dreary grey landscape. As they fought the wind and chased the clouds I tried in the failing light to grab a photo, and this was the result: The Storm and The Swarm:

I was worried the flock would move on in the ferocious storms, but they remained, and in a break in the terrible weather I managed to get something a little clearer.

In the following weeks the flock grew larger, and on one particularly windy evening I witnessed part of the flock be blown across the treetops, dusting the dark clouds with pepper as the birds were scattered and harrassed by the gale.

Fortunately calmer weather followed and gave me some better opportunities. To watch thousands of birds twisting and turning in unison is truly breathtaking, and even when they simply sway back and forth across the sunset it is utterly hypnotising, and rather additictive watching and trying to photograph them.

But when a predator arrives on the scene, the flock cuts in two, twisting into impossible shapes to avoid and confuse their assailant. Like a shoal of fish the birds move in complete synchonicity, flashing black, grey, and gold as the setting sun catches their feathers as they swirl through the sky.

As the evenings grew lighter I found the birds gathering before taking to the skies. They perched together in the very tops of the trees, weighing down the branches, waiting for the right moment.

Such a strange sight!

These pre-murmuration gatherings seemed to happen in a different location every evening. One night I found them much closer to the road, so I stopped to watch, and listen to them. The sound was incredible, the noise of a thousand voices, chattering, chittering together, filling the air with such energy. Then, in a single breath, hush descends through the flock in a wave. The world seems to stop in a silent, pregnant pause, holding it’s breath. Then together, the birds lift to the sky with a rush of beating wings, the swoosh of air through feathers as they swish upwards and away towards the roost.

Waiting:

Leaving:

It was fascinating to watch these birds, so in tune with each other that they seem to act as a single entity, how to they know when to lift off together? How do they fly in such close formation without crashing?

My final image is probably one of my favourites. That moment when they all rise into the sky together is so spectacular, the trees seem to be adorned with a corona of birds, just for a fraction of a second.

I did also manage to get a short video too, take a look here to view: https://youtu.be/5AOPRQW5Z0U

 

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Short eared owl

  • March 8, 2015 8:19 pm

A wonderful first for me today. I’ve always wanted to see and photograph Short-eared owls, but I’ve never quite managed it, for some reason they have always eluded me. So today, on the advice of the wonderful and talented John Richardson (CLICK to have a look at his blog) I headed over to a beautiful stretch of Suffolk coastline. Soon after arriving, the astonishing sight of a brown patterned owl gliding nonchalantly across open water. Upon reaching the rough grass alongside the path, he began to hunt, buoyant in flight just like a Barn owl, but larger, more powerful. On long wings he quartered across the field, pouncing into the grass, and showing off his attractive brown and cream checker pattern markings. Hovering lightly in the breeze, allowing me a photo despite the terrible light, then gliding down the bank. With an attitude as fierce as his stunning yellow eyes, he silently slides past no more than ten paces away on rounded wings, ignoring his various watching admirers. An incredible experience that I won’t forget any time soon. I hope I’ll be able to get back there in better light, but for now, here’s something a bit artistic…

Short-eared owl, Asio flammeus, hunting, Suffolk. March

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Spot the bird

  • January 11, 2015 5:38 pm

Wildlife photographers have a habit of showing only their very best work, which is of course understandable. It does leave aspiring wildlife photographers a little disillusioned or disappointed with their own efforts, because it’s a fact that for every amazing photo taken, there’s ten, twenty, or a hundred (or more!) ‘misses’. After all, we’re dealing with living beings which move, run or fly away, and refuse to look in the right direction. Sometimes, we go out to shoot, and come away totally empty handed, which is why patience and persistence is key to nature photography.

Today was nearly one of those days. Over on the fen this morning, bright but incredibly windy. In the shelter of the hedgerow, a twittering flock of small birds were feeding, Long-tailed tits, Blue and Great tits, a Robin, and several cryptically camouflaged little birds. Can you spot the bird in this photo?

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It’s a Treecreeper, fascinating little birds that creep up the trees, checking every crack and crevice for insects, using their curved needle like beak to extract their quarry and their long, stiff forked tail as a prop to help them cling to the bark. They are constantly in motion with tiny mouse like movements, making them extremely difficult to photograph. This one refused to look at the camera, but does nicely illustrate just how well camouflaged they are, and also my point about the frustrations of wildlife photography!

Walking on to see if I could spot the Bearded Reedlings, I was faced with a sea of swishing reeds, swaying violently in the swirling wind, and I knew it was unlikely I would see them. After an hour of waiting I heard a few pinging calls, but didn’t see the birds.

Heading back to the warmth of the hedge line, I spotted one of the Fieldfares perched so attempted a stealthy approach. Fieldfares are one of our wonderful winter visitors, a beautiful thrush species, they are closely associated with orchards, feeding on the fallen apples, and may also be seen feeding on berries in the hedges. On the fen they seem to pay close attention to the dry mole run riddled areas, perhaps taking advantage of the worms and insects bought to the surface here. This one was surprising tolerant and allowed me to photograph it as it sat in the hedge.

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Hello Deer

  • January 4, 2015 9:32 pm

I’ve had a few new visitors to my blog recently, so I just wanted give you a warm welcome to my website, and also to introduce my local patch, where I do a lot of my photography – Redgrave and Lopham Fen.

Redgrave and Lopham Fen is the largest remaining valley fen in England, and managed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The reserve encompasses not just fenland, but woodland and heath too. It’s a peaceful haven for me, having lived in the area for around 20 years I’ve grown up here, walking the tracks that criss cross the reserve and watching the amazing wildlife. For the wildlife, this place is an oasis in the agricultural vastness of the surrounding fields. The river Waveney rises here, although there’s not much to see at it’s source, just a boggy area and flooded scrape patrolled by Grey Herons, and dabbled by Teal in winter.

There’s something to see year round, but winter is a favourite time to visit for me, the frost crystallised on the reeds and clear cold sky, and often I have this tranquil place to myself. This morning I paused to watch a group of Long-tailed tits foraging in the brambles, and when I walked a little further a movement ahead made me stop. It was a Roe deer, the youngster from the group of three I photographed earlier in the week, she was so close, and hadn’t yet noticed me. Carefully and quietly setting up the camera, I waited and watched, fully expecting her to sense me and bound away, but in the cold still air she couldn’t smell me, and maybe if I stay still she won’t see me. She turned, nibbling on bramble leaves, and focussing manually for quietness and the distracting branches, I took her picture.

Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, youngster in hedgerow, Norfolk, January, Winter

Roe deer have to be my favourite deer species, such elegance and grace, and such a privilege to observe one so closely. Amazingly the sound of the camera shutter didn’t spook her, and she started to move towards me. Just the other side of the brambles, just a few meters away. So close I could hear each dainty hoof-step on the frozen leaves layered on the ground. She passed by, and waiting until she had moved off, we went our separate ways.

The birds were very busy, and despite the fact it’s only January a pair of Blue tits were investigating a potential nest site. A tantalising glimpse of spring.

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The Bearded tits whizzed across the path, not pausing for a photo today, but as ever, lovely to see. Walking back, a reminder that it is still winter, a dried umbellifer sparkling with the frost.

Frosted plant, Norfolk, Winter, January

I noticed a Fieldfare paying close attention to a Molehill, and after a few moments I realised why – the mole was busy rearranging his home, pushing soil up to the surface and no doubt insects or worms too, hence the attraction to the Fieldfare. Short video here: Mole in the Molehill.

 

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To the Sea

  • January 2, 2015 10:20 pm

The coast in winter, the roar of the sea, beauty and ferocity. Wind whipped sea foam sparkling in the weak sun, the fizz of waves pouring over pebbles. A twittering from small birds dashing away from the rising tide. I visited the most easterly point in the UK, Ness Point in Lowestoft, in search of Purple Sandpipers. These little birds, darting around like clockwork toys between the rocks and waves are regular winter visitors to this area and I was keen to see them. After three visits I eventually managed a couple of images, but they are tricky birds to photograph, small and constantly moving.

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There were also some Turnstones around…

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, perched on rock, Suffolk, Winter, December

But the Sandpipers were the stars, busying about feeding and preening, taking no notice of the human onlookers.

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Follow this link to see a video of the Purple Sandpipers…

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

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Autumn

  • October 20, 2014 8:09 pm

The golden season. Hedgerows heavy with fruits lead me to the earthy scented forest. Fungi, like this Fly Agaric push through the dark, damp soil. A Jay flies overhead with a beak full of acorns, and a Squirrel scampers up a tree to watch me walk by.

Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, in woodland, October, Norfolk

Away from the forest into the open parkland now. Gnarled old trees stand steady, how many Autumns have they seen I wonder? A roar cuts through the mist, a Fallow deer buck lets forth a deep, powerful bellow, and waits for a reply.

Fallow deer, Dama dama, Buck under oak tree, Autumn, October, Suffolk

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On Safari

  • September 30, 2013 9:26 pm

The 4×4 bounces along the rough rutted track, rounding a corner we spot the herd. 150 animals strong, they move through the pale dry grass and dust drifts in the air as one individual shakes out its coat. Ear’s flick away flies, a mother calls gently to it’s calf, there’s a roar in the distance. Where am I?

Not where you’d expect, I’m on safari with the RSPB, in deepest, darkest… Suffolk.

A Red deer safari in fact, a short bumpy ride away from the wonderful Minsmere reserve, in an area as close to ‘re-wilded’ as we’re prepared to go in this country. The Red deer here are wild, a feral population with it’s origins linked to the Thetford Forest animals, they are left to their own devices. At this time of year, all across the country the rut is taking place with the stags gathering harems of hinds, and defending them aggressively. As our largest native land mammal, this is an impressive sight.

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In one group, two young stags spar, carefully testing each others strength, locking antlers and pushing and shoving.

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The alpha male is an impressive beast, his red coat darkened by wallowing in mud. He sticks out his tongue, tasting the air for the scent of any females in season.

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He throws his head back and roars, a deep reverberating bellow that can only truly be appreciated in person, no recording can fully capture the depth and resonance of this primaeval sound. Silence as he waits for the distant reply.

We visit the watering hole and wallow, and watch the hinds drinking and the younger stags wallowing and coating their antlers with mud. Suddenly a large stag strides though and trots purposefully up the bank towards us, there’s a moment of tension in the air as he stares at us, he’s a powerful looking beast and we wonder about his intention. He hesitates, and moves away towards the treeline. It’s only when I look at the photo afterwards I realise he’s missing an eye, a horrific injury, presumably from a previous rutting battle.

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If you want to go on a deer safari with the RSPB, you can find more details here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-350001

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