Right Place, Right Time

Nothing much has been happening in the garden lately in the way of photo opportunities, or in the field opposite, so on a sunny day last week I decided to have a wander round a local lake to see if there was any bird life about that might be worth capturing. 

First glances were not promising. The resident swans were on the bank and made it clear, as we approached, that we should keep our distance, which we did as much as the fence would allow: about ten or twelve feet which was a bit close but there was no hissing or puffing up of feathers, even with the dogs in tow.

Further along the bank a bunch of moorhens and a pair of little grebes scattered and shot off into the reeds – a lot less chilled out than the swans. And that was about it. I saw a cormorant fly overhead at one point and managed to get it in focus just as it turned to fly away again. But then, as I pressed the shutter, Flint, the younger of our two whippets, jumped up at me for some reason and below is the resultant picture.

Flint-assisted photograph of cormorant: fresh air.

So not satisfied with scaring off potential photographic subjects, Flint has now started jogging me at just the wrong moment as well.

There was no other birdlife to be seen. We did see some toads in the shallows having their annual orgy, so I made do with them as a subject. And I was unexpectedly pleased with the result. The lighting was good and the angle has caught the viscous surface of the water nicely. My best toad photograph to date – though admittedly there’s not a lot of competition.

Spring, Sprung, cuddling toad-style

One other aspect of the walk which I hadn’t expected was that I found it pretty easy carrying  around the camera with the new long lens attached. I’d expected it be a bit heavy at around two and half kilos. And awkward – possibly clumping about on my hip with the camera strap over my shoulder – but I hardly noticed it. Yes, it was only a relatively short walk but it was okay. I took it with me yesterday to see how practical it was on a longer dog walk.

At this time of year I wasn’t expecting to see much on the downland where I was going to walk the dogs, but you never know. I didn’t see any birds as we started out but It wasn’t long before I heard a large flock of starlings twittering in the distance. As I approached the tall beach trees, I could see the birds were all in the high branches. The sun was on the other side, so I walked through the avenue of trees to where I’d have a better chance of seeing the birds more clearly and not in silhouette against the sun. They were too far away but I took a couple of pictures anyway just for the hell of it.

And then, just after another smaller flock of starlings arrived, all the birds suddenly flew off in a rush.

The reason was soon apparent: a larger bird was fluttering down to the ground and I recognised immediately what it was and what had happened. I had seen something similar years ago in Savernake Forest when I witnessed a Sparrow Hawk taking down a full-grown Jay. This time the unlucky bird was a starling.

They landed not too far away and I’d been standing still, with my camera in hand, so I really was in the right place at the right time. I tried to get a shot of the predator and prey as they fluttered down, but the camera didn’t focus in time. I did however get one shot pretty much as they landed.

Sparrow Hawk with unfortunate starling in its talons

You can see one or two feathers still floating down.

I kept motionless and took several more shots of the raptor “mantling” its prey while the poor starling squawked and flapped away its final seconds. And then the Sparrow Hawk flew off to get under the cover of some brambles not far away. I left him to it. Below is a slide show of some of those shots.

And this time the dogs were both far ahead and didn’t interfere. Maybe causing me to miss the probably dull picture of a cormorant in flight was Flint’s idea of quality control. One thing’s for sure: if he’d messed up my chance of capturing the Sparrow Hawk sequence, it would’ve been no treats for a day or two.