When friend and fellow photographer asked me if I would like to join him and his dad on a mini break to the north Norfolk coast, I was delighted. Having spent very little time with my camera over the last year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to combine a break with my camera and some expert help and guidance in the form of Pete, whose photos continue to inspire me. If you are not familiar with Pete’s work, then take a look at his Flickr account HERE.
Staying in Wells, we were perfectly positioned for the wonders of the north Norfolk coast, a Mecca for birds, especially waders. Living in the land-locked Midlands, I rarely get to see waders and my wader ID skills are seriously lacking! Perhaps three days of photographing them and looking closely at them would help me somewhat! Also to help me was the kind loan, by my dad, of his 300mm 2.8 lens and. combined with my 1.4 converter, it is a cracking combination.
I left home early on Wednesday morning and after a long drive, arrived in Wells and after a quick cuppa, we were off down to Titchwell. The weather was surprisingly good, if not a bit on the windy side and we headed along the path down toward the beach. Stopping at a pool close to the path, I had the first chance to brush up on my wader ID. At this time of the year, they are even harder to recognise as they lose their more colourful summer plumage and moult into their winter plumage.
I clambered down a grassy bank to try to get as close as possible and to get at a lower angle….
Here, I photographed a bar tailed godwit, black tailed godwit and a beautiful greenshank.
We then headed down to the shore. Titchwell beach is a huge expanse of sand and, with the tide out, we made our way down as close to the shoreline to see what we could watch and photograph. With the sun shining, but the wind blowing hard, my first challenge was to keep my hair under control!!!
Despite the length of my lens, the shoreline waders were still quite a way off…. this often gives you the chance to create shots that put your subject more in context, than having a full frame shot. One of my favourites is this one of a redshank taking a paddle….
Pete was well wrapped up and I decided that using a tripod was possibly more comfortable than the sharp mussel bed I sat onto support my lens!
Over the next few days, we visited Titchwell and Thornham Harbour as well as other little stop-off points to see what we could find. The mudflats at Thornham were fantastic as the channels gave the opportunity to get quite close to the birds as the probed their way along the soft banks….
We had three evenings waiting for the elusive barn owl! Ironically, the evening before I arrived had been a lovely sunlit stage for Pete to achieve his usual great images…. I was determined to get some shots and we waited at the edge of the road, overlooking a perfect barn owl hunting ground… the light faded…. and then, out of nowhere, it appeared; lightly dusting the field… completely silent… and impossible to follow!!! I was so excited to see it, all sense left me and the shots I took were at a far too slow a shutter speed to achieve anything other than many blurred images. This was about the best I achieved…. at least you can tell it is a barn owl!!
Despite returning every evening, a combination of either poor light or distant viewings, I did not manage to get any other shots. It was still wonderful to watch these fantastic birds hunting, though, and I will have to make do with looking enviously at Pete’s shots until I, too , manage to get a shot like his (well nearly as good!)
Possibly the highlight of my trip was to wonderful Cley. If you have never visited Cley before, then it is a must. Huge expanses of reedbed make it wonderful for both marsh harriers and the delightful bearded tit. I had never seen a bearded tit in the wild and was excited at the prospect of seeing them. Following a raised path alongside the reeds, we set up facing the huge expanse of waving stems and I wondered how we would ever see these tiny birds amongst all this foliage. Pete explained that it was their calls that usually gave them away…. and it was not long before we saw a small flock, rising and falling through the air, like bumble bees and emitting a high pitched ‘pinging’ that sounded like a space invaders game! This is a sound I will never forget… very distinctive and it was this call that usually gave these tiny birds away before they appeared.
Imagine pointing your camera into a huge bed of waving stems, trying to focus your tiny focal point of a bird that appears for a fraction of a second on a waving stem, with numerous other stems also waving in front and snatching your focal point away from you at that critical point…. that’s what it is like photographing beardies in a reed bed! They flit from stem to stem and just as you get them in the view finder, either the wind blows the stem they are on or they disappear as fast as they appear! It was some challenge! The first time we attempted it, it was pretty cold and very windy. I did not achieve any shots I was pleased with. We decided to return for a second go on the morning before we left for home. The day was much calmer and the sun shining…. it was all looking promising!
We stood there for at least an hour before the familiar ‘pinging’ started and we began to get glimpses of the birds and we raced up and down the bank following their undulating flights between the reeds. Suddenly, we got the break we had been waiting for… two males with one female… both of them more intent on chasing her than the antics of us photographers they posed for more than the usual fraction of a second and, with heart pounding, I pressed the shutter with the bird in focus and nothing in the way! I was so excited, as I viewed the images back on my screen and realised that I had actually managed to get some shots!
What a wonderful way to end a great few days! I was smiling all the way home. A massive thank you to Pete and his dad for sharing their mini break with me and taking me to all these great spots.. it was just the break I needed to recharge the batteries and remind me how much I love photographing wildlife. I won’t leave it quite as long next time!
All of my other images can be seen on my Norfolk Flickr set HERE