1. Marsh pool

    With autumn fast approaching I thought I’d share a selection of images I took over two mornings back in July.

    As I drove along a track on the North Kent Marshes I noticed a pool of water of just, approximately, 20 x 20m which was attracting a substantial number of birds. The water, it seemed, was just at the right depth for avocet, redshank and godwit amongst others. Not too deep making wading a problem yet not too shallow where it would support little or no life. About, I would say, an inch to an inch and a half.

    It was warm and we were in for a dry spell and with the threat of the pool drying up and the birds leaving to find elsewhere to feed, I scanned the area through binoculars to see where would be the best place to set up a small hide. After settling on a spot and upon obtaining the landowner’s permission, I went home and collected the hide. Activity is at its peak first thing (not to mention the light) and with good weather forecast for the next couple of days I duly set up the hide that evening.

    Under the cover of relative darkness I arrived at 3.30 the following morning and quietly made my way to the hide but before doing so gave myself a good dousing of insect repellent as mosquitoes in and around the pool become active with the rising sun. On the second morning, however, I forgot to apply it and with me settled in the hide and without thinking, liberally sprayed my ankles, forearms and tops of my hands which resulted in something akin to a fumigation tent! I dare not exit and spook the birds. I must have sounded like Dastardly from Dastardly and Muttley. I’m really showing my age now!

    Dawn from my hide

    Dawn from my hide

    I used the excellent Dome hide (standard) from Wildlife Watching Supplies and as I wanted to obtain a low angle I used the slit at the front rather than the normal opening which is a good metre off the ground. A Manfrotto 190 tripod was fitted with an Acratech Levelling Base (beautifully engineered and highly recommended which I also use for panoramas) and on top of that, a heavy duty Gitzo 3-way pan and tilt head. An angle-finder was fitted enabling me to view the image when kneeling. It’s imperative when working this way to use such a levelling base if you are to keep the water and horizon level.


    Oystercatcher at dawn




    Immature redshank

    Immature redshank

    Adult oystercatcher with juvenile

    Adult oystercatcher with juvenile

    Juvenile redshank

    Juvenile redshank

    On the second morning I repositioned the hide to look into the rising sun.

    The Nikon D300s was fitted with a 200-400mm, occasionally with a 1.4x tele-converter attached and ISO’s ranged from 200-800 depending on the circumstance. For the image of the oystercatcher at dawn below, for example, as it was stationary there seemed little point in using a high ISO so I used ISO 200 with mirror-lock to obtain as much detail as possible.


    Black-tailed godwit

    Black-tailed godwit

    Black-headed gull

    Black-headed gull




    This juvenile redshank had caught a dragonfly and spent quite some time ‘pondering’ over what to do with it. Interestingly, it submerged it several times which, I am guessing, made it easier to swallow and digest.

    Juvenile redshank with dragonfly

    Juvenile redshank with dragonfly

    Juvenile redshank

    Juvenile redshank at sunrise


    Mosquitoes buzzing around a redshank at sunrise

    Mosquitoes buzzing around a redshank at sunrise

    Avocets and oystercatcher

    Avocets and oystercatcher

    Oystercatcher calling

    Oystercatcher calling

    I love working from a hide, especially is such a situation where you never know what might turn up. I would shoot from 4.30 through to 7 when the sun would become too harsh for photography but even though it was a short period it was very intense never the less with barely a moment passing when I wouldn’t be peering through the viewfinder or capturing the sounds of the marsh on my recorder.

    Once the sun had risen too high to continue I made my way back to the car and as I did so spent a few moments photographing families of redshanks chasing and calling at one another. Two days later the pool was reduced to a muddy scrape which is testament, I feel, to a saying I hold close with my photography: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.




  2. Barn owl

    Some of you may (or may not!) recall an earlier post here where I spoke about my intention to photograph barn owls over the coming few months on private land, in my home region, on the North Kent Marshes. That was 3 months ago and the fruits of my labour (many, many hours) can be seen below. They were taken both from a small wooden hide and my car, depending on the time of day and where they were seen hunting. More often than not the single bird was either too distant for photography or the light too poor. This is an ongoing project and I hope that over the coming months and years, more (stronger) images will come as a result. At this current moment in time, the field is now being occupied by a a pair of short-eared owls which I am enjoying watching and, occasionally, photographing.

    Regardless of whether I take any images at all, it’s wonderful to be out overlooking marsh and estuary either as the sun is rising or setting.

    Sunset over The Swale estuary

    Barn owl at sunrise against The Swale estuary

    For all images, except the landscapes, I used a Nikon D300 with a 300mm f2.8 adding, occasionally, a 1.4x tele-converter. The 300mm never focuses as quickly with the converter and I would much rather sacrifice image size over sharpness, anyday! Also, having a smaller image allows you to produce contextual images, showing the bird within it’s habitat as opposed to a frame-filler which may be more commercial but says little about the environment in which the bird inhabits.

    Barn owl at sunrise. I set up my hide near this post where it duly perched on my first visit! I sat in the same hide for several more mornings without any further success.

    One of my favourites. Just as it plunges to catch its prey.

    This remote little church lies very close to where I photograph and I couldn’t resist a slight detour en route to the owls.

    Harty church at dawn

    Barn owl perched on hawthorn at dawn

    An unexpected fly-pass! White sitting in my car I saw it land on a nearby oil drum. Not the most fetching of perches, I thought, so I just watched for a minute or two as it preened. I had the camera in my hand and when it took off it flew infront of and then beside me. This is full frame and out of the 6 or so shots I managed to get, this is the sharpest and with the best wing position. Sometimes, you just get lucky! 🙂

    Nikon D300, 300mm f2.8, iso 800, 1/800 sec. f3.5.

    1 Comment
  3. Playing by the rules – Photographing buzzards

    I originally wrote this piece two years ago but, since many who read this were not following the blog back then, I thought this would interest you.

    A little over 3 years ago, I fulfilled an ambition I had held for years, to photograph common buzzards in the wild, in Kent. Why? Well, up until 10 years ago they were quite a rare sight around these parts (North Downs) but over the years they have moved further and further east to a point that it’s now unusual not to see one while out on the hills. There are now close to a thousand pairs in Kent and I personally know of 3 nests which I am dying to work on over the coming years.

    OK, so they are incredibly common in the west and north and hardly magnificent golden eagles but there is just something about them. The way they soar, their call…….. As I visited my woodland birds feeding station over the years or, indeed, sat in the hide photographing them, the desire would burn deeper and deeper to photograph this beautiful bird. I am privileged to have access to a lot of land within their territory and so, the previous October, decided to commit the following 4-5 months to this project. But everything, and I mean everything, had to be by the book. Birds of prey are notoriously shy and keen-eyed birds so, unlike a blue tit at a nut feeder, where you can come and go from your hide without them so much as batting an eyelid, with buzzards, in this part of the world, not a chance!

    The following was then carried out.

    * 5′ sq wooden hide erected (adjacent to a hedge to break up it’s outline) under cover of darkness, so buzzards didn’t associate it with humans.
    * Stockpile of road-kill rabbits stored in freezer. Thanks Martina!
    * Continue and wait for hard weather to commence photography.
    * Hide left alone for several weeks.
    * December. Once a week. Rabbit put down pre-dawn in front of hide. At night, if rabbit not devoured by birds, was taken and put up a tree to stop foxes taking it. Put back down following morning…….

    In mid January we had hard frosts lasting a couple of weeks so I took the opportunity to get some shots. I entered the hide 2 hours before sunrise. 11 hours later one arrived and fed but the light was poor. It got terribly cold in the hide, very rarely going above freezing. I would, occasionally, ignite the stove for a few minutes, wrap a blanket around me and wear a balaclava. Winter, neoprene lined boots made by Le Chameau helped keep my feet warm (though they froze after 5 hours). I firmly believe in making yourself as comfortable as possible, since the more comfortable you are, the longer you will wait and the more likely you are of getting the shot. I tried, again, a few days later and this time one appeared in good light but something was missing….snow!

    Then, at the end of January we had a substantial dumping with poor visibility, lasting for several days. I needed a break in the weather to entice the buzzard’s from where they had been sheltering from the terrible weather. I then had the forecast I’d been waiting for. A clear day, blue sky all the way. Perfect! This would surely tempt them out to look for food. I got everything ready the night before and woke at 3. With all the snow I knew it was going to be tough driving and there was no guarantee that I would even reach the hide. I gingerly made my way to the spot where I needed to park the car but first there was a hill to get up. I had a bit of a run-up but the Mondeo only made it half way. Four attempts later it got me to the top. I now have a 4×4! When I reached the hide, there was over 18 inches of snow. I staked the rabbit down (this is to avoid it being carried off), set everything up in the hide, took snacks out of wrappers (to avoid noise) and sat back, waiting for light and, finger’s crossed, buzzards.

    Then, at about 10 o clock, one arrived and fed for over 30 minutes. It took my breath away to be this close (15m) and knowing that all the hard work had not been to avail. The low perspective was achieved by attaching a tripod head to a piece of MDF with tent pegs pushed into the ground with the lens protruding through a nurses-sleeve about 6 inches above the ground. I attached one-way mirror film to small perspex panels at eye-level so I could see clearly outside without being seen.

    Common buzzard

    Several hours passed and then an immature bird turned up and, just like the one previous, spent around 30 minutes feeding, oblivious to the photographer who, at this point, was the happiest man on the planet!

    The video, below, was taken using my point-and-shoot compact camera so please excuse the rather poor quality.

    All images were taken using a Nikon D2x with 300mm f2.8 and 1.4x converter (sometimes without) with right-angle finder attached. I ached for days having spent several hours with my head between my legs peering through this!

    Of all the projects I have undertaken, this has certainly been the toughest but without question the most satisfying. Hamilton Holt’s quote comes to mind….”Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work , is the only way to accomplish results that last.” But, why do they have to be so strenuous!


Be among the first to hear of new workshops and tours

Search Blog

Blog Archive

December 2018
« Nov