Trials of a Wildlife Photographer 26 April 2010

It was a Sunday, the sun was trying to shine and I was at Alvenor Aquatics in Murrow near Wisbech. I have had this idea for far too long to build a water feature in my garden. “At the planning stage” I call it. This has nothing to do with birding, but I felt an explanation was necessary for actually being in Murrow.

The exit from Alvenor is awkward and great care is needed. It opens onto a very narrow partially obscured footpath. I edged the car forward as slowly as I could, looked right, looked left, looked left, looked left again, there, not more than 8 feet away on a low bush was a stunning male Sparrowhawk. It was staring intently into the bush, no doubt at a petrified Sparrow. Not daring to stop that close to the bird I drove 50 yards (approx. 46 metres if you are under 40) along the road, stopped, grabbed the camera bag from the boot, turned round and drove slowly back – the bush was bare.

I turned the car round again, and there it was, back on top of the bush. The fiery reddish orange barred breast and bright yellow legs very obvious, no binoculars required. I slowly pulled across the opposite drive, the bird sat unconcerned. I removed the standard lens from my battered old Minolta and took out the even more battered 500mm Tamron lens with x2 converter. This is a beast of a combination, with a fixed aperture of f11 it’s like focusing through a pair of black tights (stockings if you’re over 40), but still more than capable of producing a pin sharp image. I unscrewed the rear lens cover and the Adaptall lens mount came off with it!!! That had never happened before. I hurriedly twisted it back on, raised the camera, CLONK went the shutter. Anyone who hasn’t made the progression from film to digital will know that there’s a world of difference between a satisfying click and an unhealthy clonk. I peered through the viewfinder again, 1/15 second was flashing. Knowing that the light was good and that the camera was loaded with the superb Kodak Super Elite 800ASA, I suspected that it would be a tad overexposed.

Still the bird sat there, incredibly long legs, the Naomi Campbell of the avian world??? I removed the lens, cursing silently, I grabbed the mount, squeezed some sticking out bits, twisted a knurled something or other, it moved and looked better.

I raised the camera again, BEEP BEEP, the homeowner wanted to get into his drive. I clambered back over the hand brake and gear lever, moved forward 10 feet, the homeowner went into his drive, I reversed back, the homeowner glared. I signalled that I would only be 2 minutes – still the bird sat there.

I raised the camera yet again, a battered Peugeot came from the opposite direction, windows down, Radio 1 at 300 decibels, the bird flew into an adjacent pine. I felt like giving up. Within 5 seconds it was back. As if posing for me it sat with its back turned slightly towards me, the barred breast still partially visible; it spread its tail and drooped its wings, an almost perfect pose, but it was facing away. Slowly, very slowly it turned its head, focussing on me with its glaring, vivid yellow eye. I focused back, CLICK, and it was gone.

Just one picture. The whole episode lasted no longer than 3 or 4 minutes but seemed like hours. If the picture is in focus it will be a cracker, a real frame filler, but if you know who I am and see me please don’t ask, it just might not be!!!!!!!


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