I’m guilty. I know it and yet rarely do anything about it. I’m talking about not slowing down and properly taking time with my photography.All too often I’m rushing from one shot to the next, trying to get the most from the precious little time I get to actually spend in the field. Well a couple of weeks ago I found the antidote.
My wife and I booked a weeks holiday in the Pembrokeshire countryside and our choice of location turned out to be a gem. Called simply “Little Barn” it was exactly as the name suggests, nestled in a valley a little south of Cardigan. After a nightmare drive from Sussex (all problems on the English side!) we were pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) when we took the turn into the track that led down to the barn, about 1/3 mile down through meadows, a small wooded area and then the large pond right outside the property. I knew I was going to enjoy staying here.
Stepping out of the car I was greeted by swooping Swallows, Willow Warblers in song, Whitethroats zipping about busily looking for food and surroundings I knew would be a joy to wake up in. We were then met by Neti, the owner, who showed us to our home for the week. Little Barn looks out over a large pond with fields to the right and a tree line around 300 yards away. Even while Neti was showing us the front of the property a buzzard flew low overhead and a Pied Wagtail was dancing through the air, snatching at flies above the pond (more on that later).
The accommodation itself was like taking a step back a few decades. A simple living area with a log burning stove, a double calor gas ring to cook on (if you didn’t fancy the log burner), table, chairs and a comfy settee. The large bed was extremely comfortable and the bathroom, with underfloor heating was snug and warm. Fashionably short of things you take for granted (TV, fridge, kettle etc) meant that cooking on the gas, or the log stove if you felt adventurous was quite fun. We didn’t realise it immediately but this was another way of making us slow down and appreciate the surroundings. Boil a pot of water and sit outside watching the wildlife. Perfect.
As luck would have it, we picked a perfect week. The next day saw light winds and sun and I spent it getting used to my new surroundings. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say there were birds everywhere, the air was alive with birdsong and I spent a while finding out exactly what was going on.
Most visible and often searching the pond edge close to the front of the barn were a pair of Whitethroat. I could see they were collecting food and nipping back across the drive to an area of scrub and low trees. I crept inside and waited, being rewarded with eventually seeing where the pair were taking food. This was where “taking the time” comes in. I spent a good few hours just watching the birds coming back and forth and was able to find a point away from the nest area that they liked to use as a waypoint and the birds sat there for a quick check before continuing towards their brood. This was to be where I would spend alot of time sat deep in the bushes. As this was the first warm week of summer it also happened to coincide with a large hatch of Damselflies from the pond and, a few days later, a small hatch of dragonflies. The following images show the morsels that the industrious parents returned with. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how efficient they were –
Ok, just a few more small ones
I visited a few times during the week and although I could see when the adults were in the nest area (it was low down in bramble scrub near a fence post) I never did get to see the youngsters fledge (or indeed see them at all). I didn’t see the brambles twitching at all unless the adults were there which suggested that the young were fairly newly hatched and were not moving from the nest. I would have loved to have witnessed what happened when an adult returned with a fresh dragonfly larva!
Picture the scene. It’s about 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. The Willow warblers are zipping about the willow around the pond, singing, eating then singing again. Swallows chatter above, gliding and diving, skimming the surface of the pond in chase of the abundant insect life, often joined by House Martins and the occasional Sand Martin. Fabio, the pony in the field next to the barn, is rolling around loving the sun. A Red Kite soars effortlessly overhead, his presence betrayed by the local corvids noisily voicing their displeasure. We’re sitting watching the (wild) world go by with a fresh cup of tea in hand on the welsh grey slate patio right outside the barn that borders the pond. I take a mouthful and as I do my eye is caught by a movement in the pond, something large just rolled in the margins. I then almost choke on my tea and end up unprofessionally spitting it everywhere as I blurt out “^&$%$^& there’s an Otter!!! Newbie and overexcited child moment quickly passing, I move as the Otter dives and grab my camera. Maria sits stock still afraid she may scare it off and I kneel behind her, resting the lens on the back of the seat and grab a few shots. The Otter is coming closer along the margins but the horsetails through which it is hunting are playing havoc with the Autofocus. I did manage to get a couple of shots……
I hadn’t seen any fish in the pond but we did see thousands of tadpoles. My guess is that it was hunting frogs and newts and he did manage to catch something…
These images are un-cropped and I would say it was no more than around 30 feet away before I think he got a whiff of us and dived. I followed the trail of bubbles and he quickly moved to the other side of the (very large) pond. I moved round and struggled to get a shot as he stayed in a margin I couldn’t fully see. Suddenly he zipped across underwater and was hunting almost at my feet! I tried to move quietly back for when he surfaced but am guessing that I was spotted from underwater and off went the stream of bubbles. I didn’t see where he left the pond and we didn’t see him again during the week. Such a special sight and very lucky to get such close views. When was the last time you watched an Otter while having tea? Thoroughly recommended!
More soon in part 2