• Ben

Patience is a virtue - and therapy

Fabulous little turnstone dancing away from a breaking wave

Photography slows me down in a mad world where everything seems to get exponentially faster and more hectic. For much of this summer I've enjoyed getting out during my lunch breaks to do some macro photography - relatively easy when there are butterflies and dragonflies galore within a 5 minute walk of the office. However, as Autumn takes hold, the weather becomes less predictable, and the wildlife changes in species and character.

Landscape photography starts to become more fun again, with sunrise and sunset at more palatable times of day, Autumn colours abound and weather delivers less harsh light. However, this doesn't suit a quick 45 minutes at lunch time.

I read earlier today that the wildlife photography season is over. I nearly spat out my tea. OK, so the Ospreys may have made for Africa, but there are more than one species worthy of photographing. In the NE of Scotland we are blessed with a vast array of wintering species, especially at the coast.

I've been as guilty as anyone of rushing around trying to get photos. I've been mocked as the guy who will scare off anything worthy of taking a photo of before getting a photo of it. I guess that's my enthusiasm, and I'm doing my best to reign it in a bit, and take more time. While there is a definite element of being opportunistic and grabbing the moment with wildlife photography, there are very definitely times when it pays dividends just to stop.

I was on Montrose Beach yesterday photographing waders. There was a small flock of dunlin and ringed plover, but the light was pretty poor, and they were very flighty. An enthusiastic collie scared them off the beach for good, but one solitary turnstone remained, and started feeding on one of the stone groynes. The tide was coming in quite fast, so instead of trying to get a shot, I found a relatively comfortable spot on the groyne about 50 feet away and waited. And waited. And waited.

The weather started to improve, the light was perfect, and the waves began to swell. The tide came in and left me perched out on the groyne, occasionally showered by a rogue breaker. But the turnstone kept feeding, and got closer and closer to me. I spent a lot of time last year trying to get shots of purple sandpipers with the waves crashing behind them, but was always too pushy with the birds, trying to get too close. I simply held my ground with the turnstone, and he was quite happy with me being there.

A quick dash up to higher ground to avoid that wave!

I spent over an hour on the groyne, before tackling the now precarious clamber back to dry land before I was washed into the sea. I never saw another person the whole time I was there - but there could have been a crowd behind me. I was mesmerised by the sound and motion of the sea all around me, and the industrious little turnstone dodging the waves.

Sometimes he nearly got caught out - but the best morsels are to be had as the water subsides

Having a wee preen an a scratch after getting an unexpected soaking

It was time well spent, because as he started to dodge bigger and bigger waves, he got closer and closer, and at times was forced to take to the air to avoid the incoming swell. I fired of a lot of shots, in the hope of nailing focus and a great pose as he shot up into the air. Using an ISO of 500, and the lens wide open at f6.3, the light was now good enough to get me some really fast shutter speeds of around 1/4000th of a second, freezing the action perfectly. The hard part was focus, with the breaking water behind or in front of the bird often confusing the auto focus, but persistence paid off in the end.

Lift Off!!

And pose for the camera!

A great experience, and such good therapy after a week in the office with little respite from the barrage of urgent and seemingly life-threatening situations at hand.

Next time you see the rather ordinary little turnstone on the beach, take some time to sit back and watch it. It's better than anything you'll see on the telebox.

A similar thing happened to me today. I was walking along the back of the dunes at Kinaber, and heard a reed bunting. She was perched on top of a broom bush about 30 yards away, but silhouetted against the sun. As I circled her to try and get a better lit view for a photo, she hopped down into the bush, so I walked away. I'm pretty sure she was laughing at me, as I turned back 20 paces later and she was back on top of the bush singing away. I repeated my advance, and she repeated her hiding.

So I lay down in the long grass about 15 feet from the bush. There were actually two reed buntings in the bush, and after 15 minutes or so they seemed to decide I was no longer a threat and popped up to sing again. In fact I was able to move around and get a better angle without them seeming to care at all.

Well worth a bit of patience to get this pose

If I keep this up I'll risk losing my title as the bird scarer! There really is so much more to the natural world than just ticking off rare species and moving onto the next one. Even the relatively commonplace birds and animals can provide great entertainment and photography subjects.

In saying that, 18 months ago I'd never seen a turnstone or a reed bunting and I would have been thrilled by a simple sighting. How times change.

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