I’m just back from a few days on the Solway estuary, home in the winter months to large numbers of wintering wildfowl with particularly large numbers of Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans.
Having spent an amazing evening with a Whooper Swan family and their cygnets in Iceland last summer I was keen to get some more close up time with these long-distance travellers and wasn’t to be disappointed.
You can see from this very simple profile image just how elegant they are but spend some time watching them after they’ve fed and they start to preen their feathers then their grace really comes on show.
Mixed in with all the preening and a huge amount of socialising there’s also time for what seems to me when watching it as if it’s just pure fun – and this comes in the form of a good splash and bathe!
Caerlaverock Wildfowl and wetlands Trust reserve provides a regular daily feed for any birds in the area which is particularly useful to them when any cold snaps come and food becomes harder to find in the frozen fields, just like that this last weekend when I was up there.
This provides an opportunity to look for another aspect of swan behaviour that is always a joy to see and listen too in the form of their incredibly powerful and noisy wing beats, which interspersed with the occasional honk to a nearby flight partner was very much in evidence as either feed time, dawn or dusk approached.
Interspersed with the visiting Whoopers and taking full advantage of the feeding and socialising on offer were good numbers of native Mute Swans and some time spent watching and photographing them was equally enjoyable and rewarding too.
Caerlaverock and the Solway are by no means unique in their gatherings of wintering wildfowl – any of the main WWT reserves can offer good numbers of close up opportunities with these wonderful wanderers. Add some stunning light and cold conditions to the mix like we’ve just enjoyed though and this reserve very soon becomes it’s own photographic version of Swan Lake – and with a rendition on ice at times too!
The festive season is over, the weather till seems grey, dull and uninspiring but there’s yet another eye-catching BBC Nature series that I have started to tune into in the form of Earthflight.
Last weeks opening episode was set in North America and among the species that they followed in flight, with some dramatic small cameras attached to the birds backs as they headed north across the continent, were Snow Geese.
For the last couple of winters I too have spent some time in their company at one of their regular wintering stopover locations at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.
Although they are joined here in large numbers by the languid and elegant Sandhill Cranes, it’s the 30,000+ snow geese that for me sum up the place. To stand and watch them feed (honking incessantly in the process), to spend time trying to follow individual birds in to land as they join their fellows and to see the whole group simply blast off when a coyote or Harrier comes too close and spooks them is among my favourite ways to pass a cold clear winters day that this part of the States specialises in.
Add in some early morning or evening colour to give you the chance for some silhouettes too and there’s another raft of photographic opportunity.
And it goes even further when you start to play around with slower shutter speeds too as the creative possibilities are almost endless with a subject like this.
Part of the lesson for me from working with these birds is that it can really pay sometimes to spend a concentrated period of time working with one species in one location and looking to push the boundaries in the process of trying to build up a rounded and varied portfolio of them: it can be much more rewarding than chasing for new things all of the time.
As for Earthflight – well after exploring Africa this week it’e here to Europe next time round and it’ll be the turn of Barnacle Geese to take over from their Snow relatives. As for me: well I’ll be with the Barnacles up on the Solway estuary instead and relying on Sky+ once again!