Tales from the Riverbank

  • February 2, 2018 6:56 pm

The thin January light seeps through Winter’s brown stems, warming the muddy tones faintly golden. The cold grips my limbs despite three layers, as I sit frozen to the damp riverbank. A Blackbird whispers his subsong in the cool sunlight, practising for when Spring arrives. The water is high, and the river flows fast, eddies and ripples and swirls of bubbles fizz downstream. The vegetation leans with the current, a Grey Wagtail alights here, bouncing tail and bright lemon zing in the sparkling river light.

He flits away upstream as a pair of Swans and their grown up Cygnet cruise slowly into view.

They paddle by both peacefully and powerfully, taking the current in their stride.

The water ahead rolls, a darkness boils up and becomes living, a hump of greasy fur coils above the surface, and is followed by a sharp straight tail. Sinking away, gone, the river settles. Closer, a trail of bubbles appears from the depths, with anticipation I follow each new one as it shimmers upwards. A nose rises through the water, a broad head, and wet whiskers decorated with pearls of liquid, pauses at the bank and calmly observes her domain. An Otter. A privilege to see and always enchanting to watch. She relaxes in the sheltered water of the bank, just her nose, eyes and ears in the cold air, and in perfectly evolved alignment. She tips her head, takes a breath, and curls back into the river, so smooth that maybe she is made from the water itself.

 

 

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A Winter Visitor

  • January 18, 2016 8:27 pm

Fieldfares are another one of my favourite birds. These gorgeous winter visitors come here from Scandinavia, presumably to escape the harsh winter weather. They flock together, feeding on windfall apples in the old orchard, conversing noisily with scolding chattering calls, unmistakeable with their beautiful slaty blue grey head, brown back, and cream speckled chest. This weekend I was lucky enough to watch these lovely thrushes as they fed, pecking pieces of frosty fruit, and squabbling amongst themselves. They were joined by a large flock of Starlings and a couple of Carrion Crows too, all feasting on the fallen apples. Suddenly they all took flight, a single alarm call preceded the whoosh of wings as they fled into the sky, a Sparrowhawk glided silently through the trees, broad wings and long tail, directly above my head.

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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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Roe deer day

  • December 29, 2014 1:46 pm

Beautiful morning out on the fen today. I love this place in the winter, the sparking white blue of the frost contrasts with the golden morning sun on the reeds, always stunning to see. It wasn’t long before I came across lots of Fieldfares, and a trio of Roe deer grazing in the field adjacent to the path. I settled down in the hedgerow to watch them, a real treat to observe them simply going about their business.

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Interestingly the buck has just one antler. They cast them at this time of year, so their new antlers can grow throughout the winter in preparation for the breeding season next year.

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And finally, those Bearded reedlings are still giving me the run around! I don’t mind though, it’s always a pleasure to watch these little birds, even if just for a brief moment, before they flit away through the reeds.

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Bountiful berries

  • December 20, 2014 4:43 pm

This year the local hedgerows are laden with berries, and we’ve had a sudden influx of Redwing. These pretty little birds, slightly smaller than a Song Thrush, with a handsome russet red flash under their wings migrate in from Scandinavia and Russia to spend the winter here. Last weekend they were busy feeding in the hedges along with the local Blackbirds.

Redwing, Turdus iliacus, perched in hawthorn hedge, berries, Norfolk, Winter

Blackbird, Turdus merula, male, on hawthorn berries, hedgerow, Norfolk, Winter

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Nearly but not quite

  • December 6, 2014 2:12 pm

Someone very wise once said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s true, and that’s what we do as wildlife photographers. We visit the same spot again and again, hoping for that one moment when it all comes together. The light, the subject – we wait for that one moment. Well that’s what I’ve been doing for several weeks now. Waiting on the Fen, for a special subject. This morning was a beautiful frosty start to the day, the first thing I see slinking through the crystallised grass is a Fox, sleek and handsome he stares at me when I squeak, and then bounces away as I try to turn the camera towards him. The frozen ground crunches underfoot, and the first golden light pours over the glistening white frost. The hedge is full of chattering Fieldfares, a pair of Swans glide overhead and two of the resident Roe deer watch shyly as I walk by.

Great reedmace, Typha latifoli, Bulrush, frost, Winter, Suffolk, December

 

Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum, covered in frost, Winter, December, Suffolk

 

I reach the spot and wait, an hour or maybe two goes by with nothing but the most fleeting of glimpses. I move on, and then there,  a movement. Two more, quite close, a flutter, a whistle, they flit on the top of the reeds, the birds I’ve been trying to photograph for weeks.

 

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Bearded tits. Not very well named really, they’re not a member of the tit family, and the male wears a rather dapper moustache rather than a beard. Anyway, they are special little birds, a regular, though elusive Winter visitor to the Fen. So here’s my nearly but not quite photo, they decided to perch momentarily on the same reed, meaning I couldn’t get both in focus, then they moved down into the reeds to feed, not allowing any other chances to get a clear view. Nearly, but not quite. I’ll keep trying!

 

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An apple a day…

  • December 22, 2013 10:06 pm

One from a nearby orchard this afternoon…

Grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, eating apple, Norfolk, Winter

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Slavonian Grebe

  • January 25, 2013 6:38 pm

Out practising with the new lens today, and decided to head to the fine city of Norwich. More specifically, Whitlingham Country Park. Despite being close to the hustle and bustle of the city, the park often attracts our more unusual winter wildlife. The local waterfowl proved to be great target training.

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, adult preening, close up, graceful, Norfolk, Winter

A serene Mute Swan, that is, until it tries to steal your Jaffa cake… (don’t ask!)

Tufted duck, Aythya fuligula, female, swimming, Norfolk, Winter

Tufted duck, Aythya fuligula, female, swimming, Norfolk, Winter

These female Tufted ducks were more confiding than the black and white males.

Then I spotted the star of the show. Small, grey with a startling red eye. A first for me – an overwintering Slavonian Grebe.

Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus, Norfolk, Winter, UK

There is a very small breeding population in the UK, but they are more often seen in the winter months around our coasts.

Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus, Norfolk, Winter, UK

Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus, Norfolk, Winter, UK

Slavonian Grebe, Podiceps auritus, Norfolk, Winter, UK

He seemed quite content feeding with the other larger birds, often getting lost in the throng, and lost to view. It was bitterly cold lying on the frozen ground waiting for him to resurface, but still great to watch a bird I’ve never seen before. Despite the fluffy appearance he never seemed to get wet!

The snow hasn’t cleared yet, providing a nice reflected uplighting in the dull conditions.

Greylag goose, Anser anser, feeding in snow, Norfolk, Winter

 
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