north kent marshes
Making New Year’s resolutions is one thing I usually steer well clear of. Those that I have made in the past invariably get broken in the first week anyway! Does anyone actually make them and keep to them? If they do, they are either liars or have incredibly strong will power. But, when Practical Photography contacted me asking if I would do 50-60 words on my plans for 2011 for their New Year’s Resolution feature for the January 2011 issue, how could I refuse?! But this wasn’t personal resolutions, to give up drinking and hard partying (in my dreams, though I’m not sure I have the energy anymore) and so it actually took me a lot longer than I expected. To my surprise I gave it serious thought and if I achieve all that which I stated, I will be a very happy man. There is something to be said for putting it down on paper. It kind of makes it definite and not just a thought that may never materialise. This is what I wrote…..
“I’m determined to increase my coverage of invertebrates of the North Kent Marshes, obtain more landscape images of the South Downs and attempt to photograph wild boar.”
Roll on 2011!
This is probably the best picture I have of a barn owl. Compared to many out there, it’s nothing special at all. The lighting’s flat and it’s a little too much over to the right. The one thing I do like, however, is the wing position. It’s not hovering or floating but heading straight for the camera. It was taken some years back on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent on a small patch of grassland that is a mini nature reserve. I attempted photography from the car through a gap in the hedge but clear views were few and far between and more often than not the bird would hunt the far side of the field.
Although barn owls can be seen quite regularly throughout the North Kent Marshes, their movements are rather unpredictable, preferring large expanses of rough grassland and marsh as opposed to following the predictability of a reedbed. Indeed, many of the top barn owl images you see today have been taken in Norfolk where their population densities are greater than here in Kent.
Over the last week I have secured permission from the land owner to place a couple of permanent hides on the site so, with Christmas and New Year out of the way, normality can resume and I can start work on attempting to get some half decent images of this beautiful bird. I’m not sure I can produce anything better or significantly different than what has already been done but I’ll certainly have fun trying! Over the last few months I have seen short-eared owls regulalrly use this site as well as marsh harriers and hen harriers so I look forward to spending many cold mornings and afternoons in my hides.
The following images were taking during the (obviously) snowy period we had a few weeks ago and, by the looks of it, there’s more to come by the end of the week. If you’re anything like me and reside in southern England, when we do get it I kind of go into panic mode, frantically thinking of places to visit. Bird feeding station? Marshes? North Downs? It’s unpredictability prevents us from planning, slowing down and thinking more carefully about what pictures to take.
These woodland scenes were taken at a local nature reserve called Cromer’s Wood, just south of Sittingbourne. I’ve been a voluntary assistant warden here since it’s conception in 1990 and although not a huge area (62 acres) it does have some very interesting plant species as well as a large pond where, amongst others, sparrowhawks occasionally come down to bathe.
Freezing fog regularly occurs on the marshes and as I drove along a track early in the morning I noticed this pair of pheasants feeding on a hawthorn.
I thought I should post this sooner rather than later while the heavy snow most of us experienced is still in everyone’s mind.
Here in north Kent we had a severe dumping in the early hours of Thursday morning so the following day I headed off to the marshes to see what I could get. At the entrance to the reserve a covey of grey partridges scraped the ground to find food. They formed a tight group and it began to snow providing me with a window of opportunity.
I drove on a little further but it soon became clear that as well as I know this area, I would be foolhardy to continue as I couldn’t make out the difference between track and marsh.
Apologies for the lateness of this post. I really should have added it shortly after Marsh harriers Part 2, back in mid October but I have been awaiting detailed information regarding this practise before committing it to a post.
A month into photographing a pair of nesting marsh harriers, I accompanyed two very experienced ornithologists, Rod Smith and Brian Watmough who were hoping to find a number of nests in order to wing tag the young birds. This is a relatively new practise and 2010 was only it’s second year. Initially, ringing the birds was the only option but of course the only time data could be collected was when the bird was deceased. With wing tagging however, simply looking through binoculars can inform you both of it’s origin and year it was tagged. It is therefore far easier to collect data such as age and where it goes throughout the year. One bird, for example, that was born on the Isle of Sheppey, has been seen in Lincolnshire! But why I ask myself should a bird leave an area that has an abundance of food and fly 100+ miles? Just one of those things I guess.
If I remember correctly, 4 nests were identified as possible sites to tag the birds. The first 2 revealed nothing even though I had myself been photographing the parents bringing in food to one of them. This isn’t unusual however. Reedbeds are so dense that visibility can be just a metre or so and when you have a large area to cover, regardless of how much you have pin-pinted it’s location, you can quite literally be on top of it and still not see it. After around 30 minutes they decided to move on to allow the parents to return and resume feeding. On the third nest, we got lucky. As I stood, some distance away from where they entered the reedbed, I could see a huge pair of wings flapping among the reeds. A sure sign they had located the young and were now in the process of gathering them.
Once brought out they were taken to the car where both ringing and wing-tagging would be carried out. Two tags were attached. A blue one which indicated the year (in this case 2010) and a white one which indicated location which in this case was for the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.
As I looked on I could see how experienced Rod was in doing this. Totally confident in the way he handled them and maneuvered the birds to get them into the position he needed.
After exactly an hour (to the minute actually according to the image EXIF data) they were taken back to their nest. I had never seen a nest of a marsh harrier before so upon borrowing a pair of waders, I followed.
I was instantly amazed just how deep the water was. At at least 2 feet deep it was the ideal place to keep the eggs and young safe from predators such as foxes.
Upon reaching the nest site I had just a few seconds to get pictures since as soon as the birds were released, rather than modelling perfectly in the centre, they scattered in all directions!
I have to say I was a little disappointed with the nest. I had visions of a monster structure, perfectly entwined amongst the reeds. Instead, it was a simple nest of flattened reeds. But it was practical. It served it’s purpose, which afterall is what it’s there for.
It was a perfect conclusion to two months spent photographing these magnificent birds of the marsh and with approximately 30 nests on Sheppey, it looks as though they are going to flourish for many years to come. Hooray to that!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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