On an extremely cold winters day, with the air temperature barely above zero, I headed off into the countryside around where I live. I had no aim or target species, it was more of a "let's see what is about". So I went to a few spots in search of a few species that I really want to photograph at some point, those are Kingfisher, Water Rail & Water Vole again.
After a couple of hours I did find Kingfisher, but at distance and I also found Water Rail, but alas I could only hear it, there was absolutrly no sign of the Water Vole though ...
I decided to head into the small town of Alresford so I could check out the watercress beds that surround the town, and when I arrived there were a whole host of different species feeding amongst the crop. The most common of all the bird species was the Grey Wagtail with 4-5 individuals, but there were also Pied Wagtails, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, and Long-tailed Tits in the trees above.
To start with, the birds were a good 25 yards away and with a 300mm lens it is pretty tricky to get a subject that small sharp. I got a few that I thought worked quite well. This Grey Wagtail was full of character and watching them "wag" their way around the cress beds was intriguing. They were feeding quite frenetically but more often than not they seemed to be successful.
The image below, really sums up the personality of the Grey Wagtail for me. The pose shows their cheeky and inquisitive nature and you can see the scale of the feeding area compared to such a tiny creature. There are only a few beds here but I think they must provide an important feeding area for the local population of insectivorous birds.
I sat down on the edge of the beds, with my camera resting on my knees. I watched this individual for nearly half an hour firing off around 50 shots, being selective with the pose and the lighting. Eventually my patience was rewarded and the small, colourful character headed straight towards me. It was making its way across the Watercress when a dog walker came down the path, the bird stopped feeding and stood in this striking pose (below), alert to what could have been "a dangerous encounter". My little feathered friend was not deterred and it continued its wagging search straight towards me.
Whilst they are looking for food, as it isn't always immediately obvious, they occasionally upturn the leaves of the cress, hoping to find a tasty morsel of food. As I was photographing this, the shutter noise seemed to become apparent to the bird and it was then that I caught this pose, moments before it moved a few stems of the cress.
My favourite photo (below) was one of the last, the individual had come closer still and was continuing its advance until another dog walker came by. It then quickly made its exit, flying in its tell tale "sound wave" pattern, with a rise and a fall, before finding another feeding spot a hundred yards away.
The winter sun provided the perfect lighting, bringing out the bird's colours and giving its surroundings that rich healthy hue. The Watercress itself grows throughout the year with the waterflow constant and lightweight covers offer protection from the coldest night's frost. The unattended beds, such as this, provide one of the few insect rich feeding areas throughout the winter. I hope to go back their soon and find another position where I can get a lower point of view. What a beautiful winters day it was and I hope to see many more like it in the coming few months.
Back at the start of the summer, some of you might remember that I was lucky enoguh to have a Water Vole living right outside the office front door. After a summer of heavy rain, plenty of food and lots of waterways to explore this Water Vole disappeared. There was the odd occasion where one of my colleagues would hear the tell tale "plop" as it ducked underwater.
Now, much to my delight, it seems to be back in the mill stream enjoying the vegetation and perhaps even the small amount of shelter and warmth the old mill provides. So over a 20 minute spell I went out with my camera and got rather close, in fact at one point it was probably only 2 feet away from ... well my foot! I hope you like looking through the portraits.
The first image, below, was the furthest the Water Vole was away from me throughout the session. All of the images were shot at an Aperture of f/2.8 or f/3.5 which helps the vole stand out a little better from the vegetation. Ideally I would have loved to have been in the water to get the lowest angle possible, this might have to wait for another day.
I lost sight of the vole at one point as he went off under the mill, I assumed he was going to disappear so I moved to the edge of the mill stream only to realise he was actually coming round and ended up only a couple of feet away. I was absolutely amazed, the vole knew I was there and I made my movements very deliberate so as not to scare it off. I slowly moved backwards as I didn't want to be too close and once I got a couple of metres away I tried to get a couple of images. The image below was my favourite from the mini series of images.
The image below was by far my favourite of the short session. The Water Vole had been moving to and fro feeding on the surrounding vegetation and was repeatedly returning to this spot to nibble its salad. The light improved and the little fellow turned to look at me, perhaps wondering what the noise of the camera shutter was. I love the colour, the composition and of course the cute factor of this little chap!
A really wonderful way to spend 20 minutes on a cold morning. Winter is definitely coming, the nights are getting longer and longer and the cold is starting to bite. It makes you appreciate the slightest bit of decent weather and when you get an opportunity to photograph something as lovely as this small mammal, then you really have to make the most of it.