If I had to choose one animal activity to photograph in preference to any other, it would have to be birds in flight. Big or small, they demonstrate a mastery of a substance that we humans barely notice. They make the complexity of flying appear effortless and I can’t help wondering in what other ways they experience the air. How much more intimate must the experience be to sense the movement of air over your wings, feel the lift under them, subtly adjust the primaries and fall out of the sky with no apparent effort.
I’d gone down to Shapwick NNR late on Saturday afternoon to try and see the wonderfully exotic Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus a recent visitor from Spain which has been on the reserves since early August. Predictably there was no sign, but as a passing birder helpfully informed me “If you’d been here half an hour ago mate, it was just over there and showing really well in the sun”. An hour later with the sun now very low the Ibis returned and started feeding as far away from me as it was possible to be and in the shade of the trees that hung over the bank. I’ve been doing this long enough now to know when I’m beaten so turned my attention to a gregarious flock of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa islandica, that had recently arrived from Iceland. They over-winter on the reserves and are a sure sign that autumn is on the way. They were a welcome distraction from Ibis watching and gave me plenty of opportunities to admire their flying skills whilst trying to anticipate their next move. Of the many shots taken that afternoon I did manage two that were reasonably well framed and in focus.
I hadn’t appreciated that a bloke with a long lens is automatically assumed to be an authority on whatever is floating, flapping or bobbing about in front of him. Ten minutes after I had arrived I had a birdwatcher on either side of me debating whether the infinitesimally small brown blob in the shadowy distance was a Wood Sandpiper or Green Sandpiper and looking to me for a judgement. It all hangs on a small creamy stripe from the bill, over the eye to the back of the neck, apparently, (Wood Sandpiper, not Green Sandpiper) and a slight difference in size. I could only just make out that it was in fact a bird and not a rat, let alone what sub-species it might be, added to which my species knowledge is at best sketchy. I am getting better all the time (one reason for the blog), but I can still have my wife Jill, the naturalist, in fits of giggles by either completely miss-naming something: the chamomile/comfrey incident still makes me blush or by conjoining two names into one, thus inventing a completely new species. With no clear judgement forthcoming from the ignorant bloke with the long lens, the birdwatchers moved off together none the wiser but clearly bonding.