I had one of my best ever wildlife experiences last week. Find out more inside…
In the morning I visited Houghall Woods to take some bluebell photos. We had a nice walk and the company was great but the bluebells were a bit disappointing. They weren’t at the height of their display and there were a lot of fallen trees and branches in areas I would normally choose to photograph so I came away without anything I was happy with.
In the afternoon, I was at Hardwick Park near Sedgefield. This is a popular place to visit for many reasons and one of mine is the abundance of water birds. At this time of year, many of the birds are at different stages of breeding and I find it fascinating to see the chicks arrive and develop. The coots (Fulica atra) are one of the more “accessible” birds, not least of which is because they nest in the narrow ponds near the visitor centre and the nests are reasonably close to the banks. This makes the families relatively easy to photograph even without particularly long lenses – 300mm is often enough to get some usable images.
One pair had a brood of six chicks, one of the earliest of this year. The chicks were out of the nest, following their parents to be fed and also going further on their own to forage. While I was crouched photographing them, some of the chicks swam over to the bank near me and climbed out. As they grubbed around for food, they wandered closer and closer until they were within just a few feet of me. One of the parents joined them but rather than moving the chicks away from me, they carried on feeding them. I felt very privileged to see this so close at hand and be able to capture it.
These were all taken on a Canon 5D mark II with a 70-200 f4 L IS and 1.4x mark II extender at 280mm, ISO 400, f5.6. Shutter speeds varied between 1/250th and 1/400th of a second. I have done some cropping on the above images, but mainly for composition rather than compensating for a lack of focal length.
There were other coot nests in various places; some had chicks that weren’t venturing as far as these and others had birds still apparently sitting on eggs. On the main lake, there were signs of the other birds nesting, including Canadian geese and swans. It looks like there are going to be plenty more opportunities for photographing chicks as spring progresses. I just hope they can all be as fantastic to experience as this.