As you may have noticed I like taking photos, particularly of nature, and I decided I wanted to have a greater knowledge of my camera as well as learn some tips on how to take photographs of wildlife. So, at the beginning of March, I went on a one day Wildlife photography course at the Walthamstow Wetlands. The course was run by Iain Green, who has been photographing nature for decades and loves to share his enthusiasm about wildlife on your doorstep, and it was a great day out.
I was a bit fearful of the weather, as it was the weekend after we had the bitter cold “Beast from the East” and the snow had closed the wetland centre. We managed to not have much rain beyond a couple of spits and spots, which was nice and it wasn’t too cold. I still made sure I’d stay nice and warm and bundled myself up with many layers including long johns, and I was very glad that I had worn them. I was also glad that it wasn’t a week later when we had the sudden cold spell and yet more snow as the “beast from the east” returned.
I learnt quite a lot on the course and spent the day playing around with buttons and setting on my camera that I’ve never touched before, and so whilst I didn’t take many amazing photos, I took quite a number that let me experiment.
We went out twice over the course of the day to take photos. I took a couple of photos of plants before starting to take photos of birds. Plants don’t move much, so they were a good starting point, with something that I feel comfortable to photograph. The yellow gorse was in bloom, and the first blackthorn blossom was appearing.
Early march was a good time to see the willow trees starting to flower. The pussy willow buds were so soft looking and it was really easy to see why they got their name, they seem just like bits of fur stuck to the branches. I’m not sure I realised that these were also their catkins and I’ve not seen them with the stamens sticking out.
The wetlands are situated around the Thames Water Reservoirs along the Lea Navigation, which means there are lots and lots of water birds, particularly gulls to see. So they were a good starting point for me to take some pictures of birds. For a long time after I decided I would take pictures of birds, there were none to be seen! But then one of the tips I learnt on the course is to stop and wait, and eventually some get closer and I got my first couple of photos.
There are a number of islands in the reservoirs, with large trees providing suitable nest sites for Grey herons and Cormorants. Unfortunately, without a very long lens these are still quite some distance away as far as the camera is concerned (and it makes me want to save up for a larger lens). This does mean that you see lots of herons and cormorants in flight or sitting on branches. I missed a couple of shots of herons taking flight as I was looking in the wrong direction, which happened a lot.
I have always loved the sleek, wedge shape of the Crested Grebe and whilst I’d been told that if there were a pair they might do a “Weed dance” which is part of their mating ritual (it being that time of year). I didn’t see that. Instead I spotted this one, which initially was a bit far out, and then it dove. I waited and waited for it to resurface. And I waited some more. I was very impressed with how long it was underwater, and then I spotted that it had appeared much closer to me, and some distance from where it had disappeared.
We also had a bit of sunshine, which gave this gorgeous golden colour to the reeds.
There were loads of different types of geese, and they are really quite fearless (or I’m more scared of them than they are of me). This Canadian goose was quite happily standing on the footpath and we were able to gently edge ourselves round it as it was on the way home. Thankfully it didn’t attack us, but it was wary.
One of the amazing things about the Wetlands is that they are in the middle of a fairly densely populated area and you can completely forget taht, until you hear a car horn or the rumble of a train going past. Running through the middle of the reserve are a series of electricity pylons, which provide a handy vantage point for peregrine falcons . No, we didn’t see any that day, even though we were, apparently, stood underneath one as it feasted on a dead pigeon. Going back to the pylons, one of the other people on the course bemoaned the fact that the pylons always get in the way of the shot, and when I saw the goose standing on one foot I decided to make a feature of the pylons in the background.
One of the difficulties of photographing birds is that many of them do not stay still for very long! Funny that! They are always darting from branch to branch. You can hear them more than you can see them (well, that’s true for me). I’m still not very good at identifying birdsong, and I’m sure it’s something that will improve with practice.
I know that many people get very excited about seeing and taking photos of ‘exotic’ birds, but I love our typical native birds, such as the Great tit (at the top of this post) and also the Blue Tits and the Robins. They are not particularly special in anyway, as they are quite common, but they are definitely beautiful in themselves.
There were plenty of robins singing their hearts out and they are slightly less timid than many of the other birds. There were a couple of Robins that sat quite happily on a branch whilst I got some nice photos. The blue tits on the other hand kept hoping between branches, busily searching for food, but always high up and against the sky.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like to get photographs of more special species, and that I don’t get a real thrill out of it. It took me ages to get this halfway decent photo of a long tailed tit, which I think are so gorgeous. They do, however, have an annoying habit of staying in the middle of the brambles and densely twiggy bushes.
The highlight for me was seeing not just a couple of Goldcrests, but also a glimpse of a Firecrest (unfortunately I was so stunned I didn’t get a photo of it). Goldcrests and Firecrests are the two smallest European birds and I have seen a number of Goldcrests around this winter, but this was my first ever sighting of a Firecrest. It took quite a while to get a good photo of the firecrest, and then I realised afterwards that I’d overexposed it (I was experimenting with that and forgot to reset it), so I’ve tweaked the exposure slightly so it looks like a better shot.
These have been amongst the clearer and better photos that I took on the course, but I have a soft spot for this photo of a magpie in flight. Nothing about it is in focus, but I love the impressionist blur. You can still see the shapes of the feathers and the colours, and the plain grey background also helps to make the bird stand out. Oh well, I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities to take a better photo of a magpie.
So this has been a selection of the 300+ photographs that I took on the day. I really enjoyed my day and whilst I may not have managed to take brilliant shots on that day, I learnt enough that will hopefully let me take better shots in the future.
I will definitely be going back to the Wetlands (with my camera of course). It will probably become my go to place to get a bit of wildness. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll see the Peregrine Falcons, or the elusive Kingfisher. Maybe I’ll even manage to get a photograph of them that I’m happy with, or a blur that I can claim is a bird and not just a speck on the horizon. I’ll try to share some more wildlife photos as I take them, especially if I take one of the Kingfisher.
I hope you have liked seeing these photos.
Thanks for reading.