A Day with the Sawbills...

Through the Winter months wildfowl numbers increase on my local lake so it is a great place to practise your photography and capture images of some of our ducks, geese and swans that make this place their home for the Winter. One species of wildfowl that drops by each year is the Goosander.

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The Goosander is a member of the "sawbill" family and a diving duck of the genus Mergus, part of the Anatidae family of diving ducks. Sawbills have serrated cutting edges on their bills, an adaptation for catching and holding fish, their main food. We have two species of sawbill that breed in the British Isles which are the Goosander M. merganser and the Red-breasted Merganser M. serrated. We do have a third species that is a Winter visitor which is the Smew M. albellus.

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It is always a pleasure to see these birds arrive for the Winter. Recently we have had a group of seven birds resident on the lake which included four males and three females. The images above are of a male Goosander and the image you see below is a female or as they are more commonly known as a "redhead" which I feel is just as cool as the male of the species.

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I must admit these birds are very hard to get close to and it takes some serious time, patience, fieldcraft and dedication to capture images of these secretive birds. As with all aspects of photography to create a decent image it is all about the light conditions. Over several days of watching these birds I came across ever changing light conditions from dark grey skies, dense fog to bright sunlight it was certainly a challenge.

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Open to public access the lake is a popular destination for dog walkers, families and cyclists and is quite open around the edges. There are a few trees you can hide your profile behind and the odd bush or two otherwise you have to get yourself down to water level to hide your body shape and be very still and quiet. I must have been in a good potion for at least an hour when the Goosanders started to come close from fishing in the middle of the lake and started to head straight towards me. They reached a distance in which I could start to get some decent images when suddenly a dog came running up to me in which through my viewfinder I could see the birds flying back out to the centre of the lake where they feel safe from any predators.

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Sometimes you just have to bit your tongue, say hello to the dog walker and then start again. So after several more hours of persistence and trying to keep away from any human disturbance the Goosanders started heading back in to feed near the shoreline. I was ready and the light was pretty good all I needed was a bird to swim towards my camera. The males took the lead with two individuals who seemed braver than the rest headed in. I had one of those magical moments where it was just me and the Goosanders face to face.

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I felt like I wanted to stop breathing and not moving a muscle apart from pressing the shutter on my camera I turned in to a statue allowing these beautiful birds to swim a little closer and not be disturbed. What a privilege to see them up close in which their colours of both male and female was incredible as they fished freely in front of my very eyes.

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It seemed like there was nothing else in the world at that moment of time but me and the Goosanders, I couldn't take my eye away from the viewfinder and the finger off the shutter it was just me and them - perfect. As you may have guessed we didn't have much of a moment until they where disturbed once again by an innocent passer by in which one of the male birds flew straight past the camera in which I managed to capture the image below.

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So I finally gave in to the cold, local disturbance and a wet bottom to head back home, but what an encounter I had and I am certain they will stick around for a while so may be another visit is in order soon...

Snow has fallen...

Finally the white stuff has fallen across the UK bringing the usual chaos and disruption on the roads, but if you can get out safely to your local woodland or park you will find an abundance of wildlife desperately searching for food in this cold Winter weather. I headed down to my local bird feeding station situated in a stunning deciduous woodland only 10 minutes from my front door. We didn't seem to have as much snow along the Yorkshire Coast as the rest of the country just a covering to give you that Winter feeling.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

I put out some bird food and within seconds the birds started to come in to feed. At this feeding station we are very lucky to get five species of our British tit family with Blue, Great, Coal, Marsh and Long-tailed being regular visitors. We do occasionally also get sightings of Willow Tit and if the Crested Tit wasn't just an endemic to Scotland in the UK then may be we could get all seven UK species (in my dreams). 

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Great Tit

Great Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

The regular species that visit the feeding station are Great-spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Stock Dove, Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird, Wren and Dunnock, Sometimes we also see Siskin and Brambling through the Winter months. We have a healthy population of Nuthatch which is one of my all-time favourite woodland birds. 

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Robin

Robin

Wre

Wre

Stock Dove

Stock Dove

We have some beautiful woodland birds in the UK and to spend time with them was a pleasure and to capture images of some of our iconic bird species was just a wonderful bonus. Please don't forget to feed your garden visitors this Winter, it looks like we are going to have quite a cold spell ahead of us.

A Northern Visitor...

After receiving a message that a single Snow Bunting had been found feeding on some rough ground in Scarborough's North Bay I thought I would go and take a look to see if it was still showing. To my surprise I found the bird blending in to it's surroundings, but it wasn't long before unfortunately it was flushed by a dog walker.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

I eventually I relocated the bird further along the coastal path on the grassy area of a Crazy Golf Course which was out of use through the Winter months. With a little bit of stealth fieldcraft I managed to get very close and before I knew it by just sitting very quietly the Snow Bunting was feeding at my feet. These birds are known to be quite tame if you approach them slowly and with caution not to disturb them as they are feeding. You will find that they are quite nervous birds in flocks, but if you come across individual birds like this one then you can be lucky to get exceptionally close views.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

I went back to the area the following day because the light had improved and even the sun had made an appearance on this cold Winter's morning. To my amazement the little fellow was still feeding on the Crazy Golf Course so again I just sat down nearby and let the bird stroll on up to me. Once again it got flushed by a dog walker before landing on the sea defence wall with a few Turnstone before eventually flying back to the grassy area to carry on feeding.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

These little beauties visit our shore late Autumn and through the Winter months from Scandinavia and Greenland and can be seen sometimes in large numbers along the Yorkshire Coast. This bird is in Winter plumage, but I think they are still stunning birds in which I just love the small yellow bill designed to nibble at seeds and to occassionally catch small insects.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

So next time you visit the coast in Winter, always check the coastal paths and fields and you may just be lucky to stumble across some feeding Snow Buntings of your own.