Happy New Year, one and all. So many people seem glad to be seeing the back of 2016 but for us it was a pivitol year. One which saw us overcome adversities and make some monumental life changes. So far, so good but this coming year will bring with it new hopes and new challenges and will surely provide the evidence that will proove we did the right thing.
This coming year will see us expanding The Bird Box and greatly improving our online presence and shopping experience. This site will be the source of an interesting blog, access to new products, sale prices and from time to time we'll run a fun competition, or two.....with great prizes.
We have some great ideas that we've been developing over recent weeks and the first of these is to be announced very shortly, so look out for further blog entries. We want the year to get off to a flyer and Chris's presentation for The RSPB here in Guernsey should capture and harness our enthusiasm. His illustrated talk is called 'Clicks, Ticks and Empty Sticks' and is happening on The 18th January at La Villiette Hotel at 1930. All the proceeds go to the charity and admission is £5 for non-members and £4 for members. Coffee, tea and biscuits will be provided but getting there early and enjoying a meal in the restaurant is a pretty good option, too!
I hope that many of you will make it, Chris is a thouroughly entertaining and passionate speaker who often ditches his 'script' and goes off piste, readily answering any questions throughout his talk, should one or two arise. The talk will not be too nerdy or techy but speak more of the emotional experiences of, and responses to the daily successes and failures of a typical day in a bird photographers life. It will be funny, engaging and educational.....atleast, that's the plan.
In the meantime, the improvements to our online shop shall be made with a full listing and thumbnails showcasing the products and sizes that are available, as they would be, from our 'real' shop. This will make a seemless link to those who cannot visit us physically and should transition nicely with our ever growing facebook page which now has over 2000 followers!
I simply can't wait to introduce our first expansion to you all and it will be announced later this week. So watch this space, put a circle around the 18th January in your 'Iconic Birds of The Channel Islands' Calendar....and we'll catch up soon.
P.s If you don't have an 'Iconic Birds of the Channel Islands Calendar' it's not too late. Order one, here, online or come in to The Bird Box and see us.
Take care for now. Have a great year!
Chris and Marcia. x
The Marsh Harrier has become a familiar sight in Guernsey, over the past few years. It is one of the most spectacular creatures our Island offers and can be readily viewed at relatively close quarters from local hides, roads and pathways. I count myself as blessed to have spent the hours I have watching them masterfully flying low across the reed beds on countless long evenings. For me what was once, simply, a thing of beauty became very much an all consuming obsession; a habit that needed a daily fix.
I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment I felt seeing one of these awesome birds became a ritual necessity but I can vividly recall the first time I clapped eyes on one, locally.
I was sat in the hide at Vale Pond and this large dark bird flew overhead. It was quite high up and moving at a good pace, it was flying away from the hide but , even as a novice bird watcher, I knew it wasn't a Buzzard. I had seen many Buzzards whilst I lived in Dorset and this bird was too elegant in flight. Buzzards, although graceful when drifting and spiralling on thermals, are quite flappy birds in flight on a still day (which this was). A well respected birder was also present and he disagreed with me as to what we'd seen but let's just say, when a pair of Marsh Harriers moved on to a patch a few miles down the road, shortly afterwards.....I wasn't too surprised.
Marsh Harriers are large birds of prey. As the name would suggest they are fairly habitat dependent and nest, hunt (not exclusively) and roost in large reedbed areas. The male is smaller than the female but is a bit more striking to look at. As males age they become paler, with more and more white showing in their wings. The female is much darker in appearance but does have a distinctive pale head.
Come springtime the whole reed bed/ freshwater habitat begins to ring out with bird noise. Ducks, wrens, waders, robins, dunnocks they're all at it. The Marsh Harriers are no different. For such majestic birds it has to be said that their call is a bit feeble and not what you'd expect......A bit like seeing David Beckham in his pants and then him saying something and it leaves you a little disappointed. Anyway, early morning is the best time to hear them and also a chance to see them sat on a post in the open, you don't see that often. I went to great lengths to photograph these sunrise encounters and although taken from a very safe distance the thrill of watching such behaviour cannot be rivalled. I built a hide which I left 'in situ' for a couple of weeks before returning to it for a few days under the cover of darkness. Both the male and the female obliged, eventually, but the female always left before the light spread as far as her favourite pole.
The more I watched these birds the more intriguing their life cycle became. That's probably an understatement, if I'm being totally honest, as I eventually persuaded my wife to move into a house that overlooked the nature reserve where these birds acted out their daily lives in full view of the lounge windows.
From this house I was able to watch and hear these birds everyday and my back wall and fence was a great vantage point for fly-bys and hunting. I managed to get many record shots and one or two keepers from over the fence and obviously there was more than 'just' Marsh Harriers to photograph. Curlew, Swallows, Wryneck, Wheatear, Black Redstart, Kestrels, Oystercatchers....you name it! Even got Spoonbill as a rocking chair tick!
Anyway, a few shots from over the wall......
Needless to say, I enjoyed living there but there were still shots I wanted to get that just weren't possible from my sofa. Trying to capture the essence of these birds meant freezing them in action but still showing their real mastery of the air. This is most evident when they are hunting, manoevering over the reedtops with the minimum of effort. One shot that I had in my mind for a long time and that I'd still love to perfect is the Harrier in low light hunting over the reeds. The best attempt I made was again from the hide I'd used in the mornings for the post shots. Revisiting it in the evening enabled me to capture this male in all his glory.
This next image was taken from my car window. With the road running adjacent to the back of the reserve this is a great place to watch and take photographs from.
Watching a whole year in the life of these birds was a true blessing and witnessing the first nesting material being set in place right the way through to the first fledgling appearances was an honour. Although the female seemed to do the building the male would bring material back for her. I believe this also may be part of the courtship. A display of strength and ability designed to impress.
The breeding season did have it's moments and probably the most unique image that I captured, again from my garden, was a scene that unfolded mid afternoon. I had heard a different call earlier in the day and run to the patio to see what was going to happen. A rogue female was flying about, not too low, but calling over and over. The resident female didn't like this one bit and saw her off pretty quickly. However, during the afternoon she returned and seemed more persistent. What ensued was a full scale display of dominance and strength....the last thing I expected to see from two female birds. They were locking talons in the air and trying to force the other onto their backs..It raged on for some time. There was even time for me to run from my house to the public hide, some 100 metres down the road, where I managed to get the face to face shot from, just before they flew their seperate ways. It was one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen at relatively close quarters. The resident female was eventually triumphant.
This hide is quite possibly one of the best hides in Britain for watching Marsh Harriers and I'm not too sure that local birders don't take that for granted a little bit, but I for one will never pass up an opportunity to sit and wait for any encounter with this great species of bird.
So I guess you get the point.....I like Marsh Harriers but there's so much more to all of this. It's not just about the photos or seeing something amazing. It's not because I love getting up at 0400 in the morning. It's more. It's finding somewhere where you feel like a stranger but you know you belong......and the longer you stay there the more welcome you feel. This last piece I wrote some time ago now, but it sums it up nicely I think.
As the first sleepy rays of sunlight pierced the heavy, hanging mist to liberate the sodden world below from the crude, cold shackles of night, a Marsh Harrier drifted purposefully across the glistening dew laden meadows. It's silent silhouette serving as a shadowy reminder, to all, of his prowess and majesty.
I shuddered in awe as I watched it deliberately and effortlessly manoeuvre; magnificent and masterful, subtle and stealthy. The warmth of the car heater, now a distant memory, had been replaced by a dank chill, hazy but tangible with anticipation.
From the haunting call of a single curlew, vague and distant, came a gradual crescendo of sound building to a cacophony of noise. A thousand voices each celebrating every conquering shard of light that warmed my face and lungs. The Chiffchaff’s descant melody the Cetti’s explosive staccato bursts, my ears were ringing to nature’s orchestra. Were they performing this overture just for me? I shuddered a second time.
The world seemed at peace and in good order, but I knew that would only last until I read the headlines on the news paper stand at the garage. So I just pretended, whilst I could, that I was the last man alive and if I wanted to contribute to this dawn chorus, then I should….I hummed Alcoholiday by Teenage Fanclub but at a rather reverent level.
My heart was filled with the joy that the robin and the wren expressed so colourfully against such a foggy monochrome backdrop. I was driven by the absolute thrill of being alive and I wanted to share it. I’d made it through the night and I wanted everyone to know that I would live that new day to the full…and not just because it could have been my last. No, no, no…but because I could and I should, as an example to those who can never see beyond their doom-saying tabloids, the rising price of petrol and their own consumer driven misery.
The marsh harrier had long since disappeared from sight but in that brief yet glorious encounter I felt both humbled and empowered. Humbled by realising my place in the world, empowered by realising I had one.
Thanks for reading this folks. If you know anyone who may also enjoy it please share it with them.
Take care for now. CB.
During the recent half term holidays I took a week off work with the intention of going on a short break with my family. This didn't happen and it gave me time to sort through my computer and order, delete and organise my files, images and stuff. It was hard work and time consuming but what a result....in the end.
I found inspiration for blog posts, slideshows, images I'd forgotten I had, new prints and a totally invigourated outlook on all my images as a body of work.
One of the things that became apparent was that I seem to have developed, over time, quite a distinctive style, which is hard to see, or acknowledge, when it is just what you do with what you've got.....so to speak.
As I was sorting images into files I began to notice that even some thumbnail images were more eye-catching than others and certain 'themes' started emerging.
The images I am writing about here all have other birds in the background. They demonstrate how the 'depth of field' used whilst shooting can have a great effect on the overall image and it's perception.
This first image is one of my favourites. These Sanderling were foraging for food along the water's edge, as they typically do. They were working their way towards me as I lay on the beach motionless and waiting. The tide was also making it's way towards me and by the time the birds were in good range the waves were lapping up against me. My elbows were in the water and my left hand side was soaked. Worth it?.....I think so.
The second example is again a beach shot but this time a little further from the sea. These Bar-tailed Godwits were running from the shoreline to the high tide mark, where there was an abundence of maggots and fly lava. From a low angle I managed to pan around following the action. The result was this image that looks a bit like a 'photo finish' from the horse racing. Once again the shallow depth of field means the two other birds are gradually getting more and more out of focus.
Another image that uses this technique well is this one of Black-winged Stilts, taken in Crete.
So far all the subjects have been wading birds, shot at a low angle and I hope you agree that they are quite effective. But what about other birds, doing other things? What about birds in flight? Now I'm no flight photography expert, far from it, but these two images would be mediocre had it not been for the 'hints' of birds in the background. The first one is of Gannets circling before diving into what was most likely a shoal of mackerel. Magnificent birds.
The Puffin image above was taken more by luck than judgement, by which I mean the Puffin in the background was not there by design. However it's inclusion in the frame actually completes the picture and the story, I think. Likewise with this pair of Puffins, except this time the image was very deliberate.....I don't like humanising animal behaviour but these two do look like they've been married for years.....
Below is a male Gadwall swimming in the foreground. A stunning but understated bird; wonderfully detailed but not too showy. The female in the background, as in most cases, is far less intricate but complements the image and completes the image perfectly. With couples of any kind this way of using 'depth' can be effective. I have used it when shooting family portraits, too.
So there you have it. A few images that, probably will never make it to print (except from Sylvia, Dave and Lucy), highlight a technique that is effective and a little more 'art' orientated and creative than looking to capture the detail throughout the entire scene and preserve it in text book fashion. Simple but effective.
Other Guernsey Bird Nerd examples of good use of this method include these Snipe and these juvenile Swallows, all lined up waiting to be fed.
Hey Bird Nerders. I hope this finds you well and this great news simply adds to your good cheer!
It's finally arrived. A Guernsey Bird Nerd online shop that is simple to use and carries stock of all My most collectable images. It's a long time overdue, of course, but better late than never....right?
Recently two of my images have received over 20,000 likes on Facebook having been shared around the globe thanks to exposure by The Owl Pages. Whilst this is fantastic coverage I can't help but rue the fact that the obvious popularity of the images did not translate into many sales or enquiries. Fair enough these images have always sold well at local markets and through local galleries but here was an opportunity at a much wider audience and it pretty much went begging.
Anyway, always keen to learn from my mistakes I set about creating this easy to use store. It will soon be linked to my official website, also, which is just having a bit of a tweak to make it a more interactive and enjoyable experience. You can find that at www.guernseybirdnerd.com.
In the meantime, do have a look at the products currently on display. There will soon be my range of 30x20 inch canvas prints, a series of 16x12 inch mounted prints and my all new Sea Birds of Guernsey set. This is a set of five smaller images and they'd look great on a bathroom wall, maybe.
If you are based locally, in Guernsey, then do seek out my images in the following places.
Guernsey Picture Framers, at Vale Church crossroads.
Cadeaux Cobo, Where the pharmacy used to be at Cobo.
Framecraft which is just down the hill from the Longfrie.
Things to look out for shortly. My new 2016 calendar and some new prints in a new space at Iris & Dora's shop, which is at the Rex Print site!
One last thing. Don't forget to visit The Master's Guild Exhibition being held at Guernsey Picture Framers. Just by signing the visitors book and writing I'm a Guernsey Bird Nerd alongside your name could see you winning copies of the three images I have on display there. At the end of the exhibition a name will be selected at random for the prize worth £72. These are the 12x8 inch, mounted images you could win.
Watch this space, folks.
Take care for now. CB.