Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Bonus Day

Extra hours put in at work resulted in a bonus day off on Friday 19th Dec. I knew about this well in advance, and prebooked a train ticket to Leighton Moss RSPB. Advance booking meant a return ticket for £18, what a bargain. So, the day arrived, and I set off on my train journey, arriving at Silverdale station at just gone 11am. I then walked the remaining 250 yards to the reserve.

I had taken my new Digidapter and a Nikon P300 I purchased off Ebay, and hoped to do a bit of digiscoping during my visit. I had been keeping an eye via the internet on what was being reported and where it was on the reserve. I had decided that I would spend the short daylight hours trying to cross paths with the frequently reported Bittern and Otter family.

The Public Hide
'Al's Alley'


On arrival, I headed straight for the wilder side of the reserve and the Public Hide, where the Bittern has been regularly giving good views in a corridor called 'Al's Alley’ that has been cut through the reeds.

There were already a few birders and photographers in residence on my arrival to the Public Hide. I settled in and started chatting with the regulars. No sign of the Bittern so far today. I enjoyed all the other bird activity around me, but then heard some news that forced me to make a decision. An Otter had been sighted out in front of the Lower Hide. These short days don’t allow the luxury of wasting daylight , so i made i decision, I collected up my things, and headed for the Lower Hide.

The Lower Hide is a fair walk, so I hoped the extra effort would produce the results.


I set up in the Lower Hide with only one other chap in there. He had not seen an Otter so far, but like me was hoping luck would be on our side. I attached the camera to the adapter ready for action and started to scan the large area of water and reeds in front of me. A marsh Harrier was spotted on the opposite side of the lake, easily 300 yards. I thought I would try for a record shot. The light was also poor, so this would allow me to play with the camera and experiment with settings.

I have mentioned before that I categorise my digiscoping into two distinct areas. Record shots, which are just an attempt to record something that is usually very distant or in far from ideal conditions, or sometimes both. This usually results in poor quality pictures but good enough to provide me with a memory of something i wanted to record. Most of my digiscoping falls into this category. Then, there is the more serious attempt at capturing the best quality picture I possibly can, usually of anything that will hang around long enough and allow me to point my scope at it. This is more about photography that birding, but adds an interesting extra dimension to an already fascinating pastime.

So, my very distant Marsh Harrier Shots.

Then, as the light dropped further and a light drizzle of rain fell, an Otter was sighted. In the end, there were definitely two and maybe three. They were just too active to be sure. They were so fast and mobile, digiscoping for still pictures was not an option. Video is a much easier way to capture a record shot of a fast moving subject and is much more forgiving in poor light. I switched the camera to video mode and tried to follow an Otter, trying to quickly focus as it surfaced momentarily and then quickly disappeared again. I succeeded a couple of times to get them in shot. Here are some more record shots. I captured these stills from the video.

By now, word had spread about the Otters, and the hide was quite full with everyone enjoying watching them. The Otters vanished as if by magic, and right on cue the light improved with a bit of sunlight shining through. Some Snipe had been located not too far from the front of the hide, so here was an opportunity to get to know the new camera and attempt to take a better quality picture or two. Here are some of my attempts.

I am very pleased with these and look forward to really getting to grips with the Nikon P300 camera.

As the light was fading, I headed back to the Public Hide. Still no Bittern had been sighted. I carried on to the visitor centre side of the reserve. I purchased a very nice Almond Slice and a cup of coffee and took them to Lillian’s hide. Coffee and cake were excellent. I watched a Marsh Harrier hunting over the reedbeds and stayed until the light had gone. I met a very pleasant couple in the hide and we discussed birding, photography and digiscoping. They tell me they will be checking this blog out to see how the Snipe pictures turned out. I hope they decide to give digiscoping a go.

With the light now completely gone, I made the short walk to Silverdale Station to wait for the first train of my return journey. Now that’s how I like to spend a bonus day off.



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