I was lucky enough to see a barn owl while undertaking a commission for Anthony Edwards to photograph his fishery on the Avon. When returning to their car one evening, one of the fishery syndicate members had mentioned he had seen an owl quartering a field next to the river. Last Monday by early evening I had completed my target images of the day, photographing Anthony's house from distant viewpoints, so decided to walk around the fishery hoping to see the owl. On a previous occasion I had spotted a Little owl on a post, but it was some distance away and the only photographs I could get were of the owl looking the other way before it noticed me and flew off. However, on this evening I saw a Barn owl quartering the field and managed a few distance shots in the failing light. Quick reactions and a long lens achieved a reasonable result but with many wasted shots as the auto focus struggled to focus on the fast moving bird rather than the dominant woodland background. This and another shot shows the owl in the context of its hunting territory. My other shot I might use for the book shows the bird more clearly against the background of the field but less of the face which is such a distinctive feature of the species.
Last week it was worth waiting for the evening hatch of Sedge on the Avon after a very hot sunny day, even though the fish did not seem to be at all interested - so no evening rise. The hatch was concentrated beside overhanging trees such as this willow, which I included in the shot to give context and scale. Tricky subjects to photograph. I ended up using a very long lens to get the desired photograph. This image is a substantial crop and required a very fast shutter speed of 1/1600 sec to partly freeze the movement of the flies. It was then possible to identify the characteristic long antennae of the Sedge which were near impossible to see with the naked eye.
Now that's what I like to see! This image of brown trout parr was shot last Monday (15/6/20) with a compact waterproof camera. I found a shoal of these 5cm long junior fish by the side of flowing ranunculus on a stretch of the Wylye. What an encouraging sight. It says something for the habitat restoration carried out on this part of the river. Nearby there was a similar grouping of minnows and in another channel, a shoal of tiny minnow fry. A quick kick sample from the gravel also resulted in hundreds of Gammarus (shrimp) in the net. Surely a sign of a healthy river?
The Avon covered with flowering ranunculus at the end of May 2020. Very pretty - but a problem and a keeper's nightmare. The restrictions created by COVID19 have prevented the weed cut on the Avon this Spring. Water is held back, encroaching onto the bank and potentially causing some flooding in the next few months if weed cutting continues not to be possible.
The shot above was taken by wading into the middle of the river and carefully holding the camera a few inches above the water. A bit ambitious for depth of focus, even using a wide angle lens, as the first flowers are extremely close which is why these buttercup sized flowers look so big in the image. The overall effect captures the beauty of a scene that I am unlikely to ever see again.
Ranunculus is the favourite aquatic weed of fly fishers as it is a sign of a healthy chalk stream with fairly clean water and a good flow. It also provides vital cover for fish and especially the insect life they depend on. In the book there are several classic shots of long fonds of ranunculus seen through clear water.
The weed is usually cut two or three times a year for a number of reasons. More of this another time. Usually to is cut before much of it has flowered. The reason being that after flowering it dies off and prevents much life below and restricts regrowth.
The two images above from the Avon show the pretty buttercup sized flowers I found two weeks ago in May 2020. Note the insect on the flower in the top image. In the image below, if you look carefully, the surface of the weed is teeming with insects.
In the next post I will show a wider landscape image of flowering ranunculus.
The mayfly season is all too brief, mostly concentrated over a couple of weeks. I wanted to get a close up image of this iconic chalk stream species, so needed to get some control over the process. To do this I used a very soft bug net to capture a male spinner returning to the Avon late afternoon. I then placed the fly on a leaf set up in a light tent, which gives the soft lighting essential to bring out the features of the body and wings. The mayfly was co-operative long enough for me to get my shot before flying off. I think this image shows the intricate details so easy to miss when viewed from a distance on the river bank. Mayflies will sit quietly for a while but most other species do not, giving me a few problems to solve in order to get a couple of other species for the book.
Lasting two weeks or so, mayfly time is special with both the fish and fly fishermen. I wanted to get a shot of mayfly spinners swarming over the river in the early evening. A very fast shutter speed was required to freeze the flies in the frame and avoid a blurred mess. I needed to be close enough for the flies to be recognisable which meant standing on a bridge looking over the river Avon but keeping the trees in the background to give context. The second image, shot with a longer lens to isolate a single fly, was next to a bush, again to give context.
Last week on the Avon I spotted a very localised area of mayfly male spinners returning to the water. To get close I used a very long lens but this made focusing on an individual fly next to impossible because of the unpredictable flight and extremely narrow Depth Of Focus. Fortunately one mayfly settled on a stalk long enough for me to get my shot.
The next post will show a close up of a male mayfly spinner.
It was critical to include wrens in the book as they flourish in the chalk stream valleys. Getting a good photograph of a wren was however tricky as almost always I saw them too late and disturbed them by my approach. I have yet to work out how they do it, but when spooked wrens go into nearby bushes and then I get up close, the wren has disappeared yet I have not seen it move off. Occasionally one sees a wren resting on a branch or feeding when it should then be possible to get a photo of them - but no. They are not usually still long enough. So, two options, either set up a hide in a likely place and wait for hours (not my thing) or persevere with very slow and careful approaches along the river bank over a number of visits and sooner or later get lucky. As with many of the shots on the book, perseverance pays! The shot above was from the Avon earlier this year.
I needed to get shots of brown trout mating activity for the book but, as with many of the shots for the book, the wildlife do not do things to order. The timing on my chosen rivers is late December through to end of January for the best chance of spotting them spawning. Craig of the Piscatorial Society reckons you can almost guarantee spawning activity the day after Boxing Day on the upper Test. This is not an ideal time to leave the family but I spent a day searching likely spots. The river level was very low and of course the weather did not perform so I had a wasted day as the trout decided to wait a bit.
I needed to find the redds the trout make in suitable clean gravel where there is also good flow. Several contacts suggested locations but after three 140 mile return trips I had spotted a few redds but no trout action.
Then Nick Gooderham came to the rescue as we were tipped off that there were redds viewable on the Bourne Rivulet. So in January 2019 Nick gained the permission from the owner and we walked the length of the stretch and right at the end came across a fabulous sight - several sizeable trout going about their mating activity. I think we were both blown away to see this so clearly in very shallow crystal clear water. The summer drought and very low water levels did me a favour as normally the trout activity would be underwater so getting decent images from the bank would be impossible. They would have come out murky even with a polarising filter. My luck was in today and the trout were thrashing around and breaking the surface in a bit of a frenzy, giving me some highly visible action shots. Nick and I felt privileged to see this. I have included a sequence of the action in the book.
While on the walk mentioned in the previous post, it was interesting to note that because we were all focussed on finding subjects to photograph, we noticed things that would otherwise be missed if we had just been wandering aimlessly along. Also, each person saw quite different things in a scene. This was evidenced in the photographic images shared afterwards. Also, some people are more observant that others. My eagle eyed wife Lynne spotted a Stoat just off the path. It had been missed by others walking in front of us. Rarely seen as they are so nervous of humans, the Stoat stood still just long enough for me to point my long lens and grab a couple of frames before it vanished. Lesson? Walk slowly and quietly and keep your eyes peeled!