With the weather looking decidedly dubious over the next few days, I thought I should make the most of the last two mornings which were forecast as being fine.
So yesterday I headed for Hothfield Heathlands (as it is now called, not Hothfield Common as I said in a previous post), to (hopefully) catch a misty landscape with the heather in full bloom. It was a beautiful morning but as is so often the case, I found myself frantically searching for a decent composition, seeking out young bracken to act as my anchor point. Eventually I found what I was looking for then just stood and watched the day unfold.
In the distance, I could make out the huge shapes of highland cattle that are currently grazing the heath to keep the scrub under control. Once the sun had burned through the mist the light was too harsh for shooting landscapes, so the next 30 minutes was spent photographing the cattle.
As yesterday, I awoke at silly-o-clock and arrived well before sunrise at my hide on the marshes. It was a great sunrise with a spattering of clouds and the avocets came just within camera reach. They have to be our finest bird for silhouettes, no question. With its upturned bill, head sweeping from one side to another and the graceful way in which it moves, they are instantly recognisable.
It’s no wonder they are the symbol for the RSPB though it is not just for their appearance why it was chosen. About 160 years ago they were wiped out due to fen drainage and man using it’s feathers and collecting it’s eggs. Then, after the second world war it is thought they were dislodged from their breeding grounds in the Netherlands by the flooding of the polders and they began to nest on Minsmere and Havergate Island in Suffolk. Recently, on the Southend RSPB website, I read that their preferred breeding conditions of shallow pools and low islands which are uncommon in this country, was artificially created by a wayward bomb from a nearby firing range at Havergate , blowing a hole in the seawall which allowed the tidal river to flood in. At Minsmere, the marshes were deliberately flooded to halt invading troops and when the water drained away, shallow pools remained creating ideal nesting conditions. The RSPB bought both as reserves and today over 100 pairs breed on both with a national population of around 400. A real success story.
A 3.15 alarm call and a half hour drive took me to a favourite reserve near Ashford this morning. I’ve been visiting this site on and off for close to 20 years now though the last time I did any photography was probably 5 years ago. It’s the kind of habitat that yields the best opportunities for photography in late spring and summer when such plants as common sundew, heath-spotted orchid, bog asphodel and heather are in bloom as well as the many insects that inhabit the heath. These include leafhoppers, damselflies, dragonflies (including the scarce keeled skimmer) and sand wasps.
Hothfield Common covers an area of approximately 150 acres making it Kent’s largest area of acid heathland. As you would imaging, it is generally an open space of heath with lowland valley bogs and around the perimeter, woodland of predominantly birch with some mature beech to the south.
Due to the invasion of such species as bracken and birch leading to the loss of the heathland habitat, certain measures were necessary to reduce this risk and consequently highland cattle and Koniks are now a feature.
Hothfield Common really is a great place for everyone. There’s a large car park and trails of varying distance and even a road-side snack bar! Be warned however, with the current hot weather we are experiencing, come prepared with a hat and sun cream or if you prefer, like me, get yourself there at dawn. Trust me, it’s worth it.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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