It’s Tuesday early evening and I’ve just realised that tomorrow is going to be a perfect day for photography. A quick check on the tide tables and weather websites and a phone call to the boss and I’m set for an early start (thanks boss!)
I have a plan but I’m always in two minds about what to do. I’ve decided to start at the harbour end as the sun rises, mainly to try for wildfowl and the kingfishers, then off to Pett Pools for lunchtime to see if the Glossy Ibis is still about and finally back to Rye for Castle Water hide and try at the Barn Owl as the sun drops.
It’s a freezing morning – the second in a row at about -4 degrees. Even with my 2 pairs of gloves (one thin pair so I can still operate the camera) my hands are frozen as I walk towards the hide. Theres a bit of a commotion on the other side of the reserve and I can see a huge flock of plovers as they wheel in the glowing pre-dawn sky. This image is a small part of the flock. There must have been several thousand birds in the sky.
I can see that large areas of water have frozen over which may make for some interesting images. Sure enough, as I slowly peep through the hide window as I open it I can see a large amount of wildfowl right in front of the hide. A good start! The birds have been concentrated into the left side of the pool due to a sheet of ice covering the right half. There are hundreds of Widgeon, their whistling calls an integral part of the winter soundscape. They are joined by Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Coots, Little Grebes and a few geese, the most notable being a Brent goose that’s resting close by.
The birds are moving in and out of the area close to the hide and it’s actually the Gadwall that present the best chances for images.
Many of the other ducks just seemed to be glad the night was over and were warming up in the dawn sun…
To give you an idea of the view outside the hide and the numbers of birds I took a couple of images….
As with my last visit there were good numbers of Little Grebe amongst the other birds and again showing their skill at catching fish –
So how did I get on with the Kingfishers? When I arrived the perches in front of the hide were covered in frost and looking perfect. I just needed the bird to turn up before the sun melted it. It did turn up….and sat there for all of 2 seconds before zipping off down towards the cottage. I think the number of ducks around the perches put it off but …I’ll never know.
What I did see over on the lake next to the narrow pit path was a pair of kingfishers zipping back and forth. They were a long way off and I couldn’t quite see what they were up to. I took a couple of shots just to see when I got home and I believe they were two males having some kind of dispute. They got into a little bit of a spat so it may have been a territorial thing. This next image shows that they were getting aggressive – it’s a poor image and a huge crop but I thought it of interest…
A quick check out from the other hide showed it was quite quiet (within lens range) apart from a small group of roosting Lapwing. Beautfiul birds with a very distinctive call.
Having checked the tides I knew that high tide had been around 6am and that the water would be dropping enough that there may be some waders feeding over near the harbour mouth. As it was mid week I thought I’d give this a try – at weekends and later in the day it’s just too busy and these days it seems a high percentage of people have their dogs running all over the place so waiting for waders to come to you is just an exercise in frustration. It’s the main reason you don’t find me at the harbour end very often.
That said, there were quite a few Turnstones, Redshank, Ringed Plover and the odd feeding Oystercatcher to try and photograph. They didn’t seem bothered by the huge lorries that were back and forth as part of the sea defence works so I walked close to the wall on the channel side, found a dry flat rock, sat down and wrapped the bag hide around the tripod to hide my shape. This is a tip that pays dividends. Not being seen is half the battle in getting decent images and just being behind a non descript shape and hiding the human form can mean you are ignored by the birds.
It took a while but eventually a few came close enough to photograph –
There were also a small flock of Ringed Plover slowly making their way towards me as they picked tidbits from the weed and sand. I had the camera trained on them and was about 2 minutes away from them being close enough to start taking images when one of the workmen above slammed his car boot shut – every bird gone. Arrrrggggggggggh!. Not his fault, doubt he even had a clue I was even there but frustrating none the less. What I would give for places to go where other people can’t spook the birds. Oh well time to move.
I stuck to my plan and headed down to Pett Pools to see if the long staying Glossy Ibis was there. Unfortunately it was really quiet so I took the opportunity to just rest and have some lunch for 20 minutes. A week or so ago I did head there with my friend Mali and had some ok views of the bird. Not as good as he had achieved on some visits before but there was something in common – total idiots driving past and giving loud blasts on their car horns. Another example of the selfishness that makes my blood boil. No reason to do that other than bloody mindedness. Maybe I’ll get a chance to stand in front of their view when they are trying to watch their team in the FA cup final. I’m sure they would find that funny. What was refreshing though was meeting two families that were also looking for the bird, really pleasant people with a genuine interest for wildlife. Helped to restore my faith in humanity a little bit.
Part 3 of the plan was to head back out to Castle Water. The walk out wasn’t very productive for images although there were notable numbers of geese feeding in the sheep fields along the way. I reached the hide and very slowly opened the door…..only to find that someone had left every single window open and the birds saw a large flash of light from the sun behind suddenly light everything up….cue hundreds of birds that were right outside the hide scarpering across the water. Thanks…
A large area of the water was frozen (to the right) and again large numbers of widgeon and teal made up the bulk of the birds. Plenty of movement but, as is often with this hide, they tend to fly just a little too far away from the hide for decent flight shots. Some of the coots were having a few issues with the ice though..
I have to say that following the work that’s been done to improve the landscaping out from this hide it certainly feels like it’s going to be an even greater place for images / birdwatching. There are kingfisher perches quite close (no views this day but it did visit last time) and with the water being alot closer, the birds will come in that little bit more (if not disturbed!) which may offer some decent chances. Really appreciate the efforts of the Sussex Wildlife Trust to make the reserve the best it can be.
One bird you can pretty much guarantee to show up at some point is the Marsh Harrier and sure enough the scattering of birds was the telltale sign that one was incoming….
These are mainly Teal with the odd Mallard and Gadwall. What I did notice when processing the image was the Tufted Duck at the bottom left of the image. It occured to me that of course they tend not to fly away when an aerial predator approaches as they are a diving duck – they can just dip under the water!
Marsh Harriers are notoriously difficult to get good images of. They have such keen eyesight that the slightest movement will have them veering away so unless you are hidden your chances of getting a “keeper” photograph are slim. Even the hide is sometimes not enough as they seem to spot you long before they are in range for a good shot. When you do get a good opportunity you’ll want to try and make the most of it…..which is exactly what i didn’t do this time. When the bird came close and veered a little I managed to clip the wings…..even with lots of practice I still don’t get it right everytime, I guess that’s part of the attraction, you just never know if it’s going to be your day!. This is the “close but no cigar” shot. I know some may look at this and think “what’s wrong with that?” but I can’t help see the missed chance….next time!-
Another bird I hoped to see but wasn’t sure I would was the Water Rail. A secretive and skulking bird, often the only views will be as it dashes between the reeds. Due to area still being a bit bare out front I didn’t think they would be using it. A movement from the corner of my eye alerted me to a rail dashing from the gorse (first time i’ve seen that) into the largest clump of reeds. Being an incredibly still day with not even a breath of wind, I expected to see the reeds moving to give away the birds location and was surprised that it didn’t move a single stem and suddenly appeared at the edge and did a quick half flight into the next clump. This time I had a good idea where it would exit so trained the lens ready…
One final bird worth a mention before I move away from the hide is the Pintail Duck, a smart looking bird that decided to have a bit of a wash out from the hide….
The sun is finally starting to drop and I need to get in place for a chance to see the Barn Owl. I never get tired of photographing these amazing birds, there’s something about the way they fly, the way they just seem to appear and glide silently across the fields which makes every encounter quite special.
While waiting I couldn’t help grabbing a shot of the reeds glowing gold –
…and as I turn back to the field the owl has suddenly appeared. Unbelievable! once more I have no idea which direction it arrived from. Perfect light and a fantastic bird made for some lovely images –
Whilst Barn Owls can sometimes be accommodating, to get these shots I’m hidden under my bag hide, sat low to hide my shape. The Owl has heard the shutter in the lower shots and is glancing over to see what the noise is. It’s a fraction of a second before it continues that beautiful ghostly flight as it quarters the field.
The owl then disappeared – after waiting some time I looked out to scan the area but there was no further sign. Another chance to grab the dying sun in the reeds –
There was to be one final surprise. I did get a far glimpse of the owl again so back under the hide I went. This time I didn’t take any images as it flew close, I waited, barely daring to breath as it got closer and closer then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it spin mid air and come down to land. Moving so slowly it was barely visible I looked above the lens and could see the owl perched just 30 yards away. I brought the lens round so so slowly while I muttered “please don’t fly, please don’t fly” under my breath. The reward was a shot I’ve been after for years. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Apologies this post has been so long, I feel I’ve hardly had a chance to get out and a decent update was well overdue. Hope you enjoyed….