Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Weekend of Mixed Fortunes

With the weather on Saturday, at least forecast to be dry with some long overdue sunshine, I decided to head to Cresswell on the Northumberland coast in the hope of photographing owls, in particular, Barn owls which are often sited there.  This part of the coast has beautiful stretches of beaches with sand dunes which also helps makes it a popular hunting ground for the owls and Kestrels.


Northumberland Coast at Cresswell

I reached Cresswell late morning with the plan to spend the day going to various locations, but first wanted to visit one of the hides overlooking a large pond.  In the hide was another photographer who had already been there since seven in the morning in the hope of seeing the normally nocturnal Barn owl and had been coming there on a number of occasions that week, seeing them on each time, so it was looking promising for me.

Sure enough, within twenty minutes, in the distance a white shape appeared, flying backwards and forwards and occasionally diving down and perching on distant posts.  All too quickly, the owl disappeared up towards the farm at which point the now two other photographers, rushed out to the back of the hide in the hope of catching a view of it out in the open but I chose to stay inside.


The best of the bunch

I continued to train my camera and lens on the location I hoped the owl would return to when out of the corner of my eye, right outside the front of the hide the owl flew by and made its way back to where it was originally hunting, giving me only the chance of taking a photograph…of its backend.  It landed on a distant pole then flew further away and continued for another five minutes hunting before disappearing again.


Only the rear end!


Just the back end again!

After the commotion had died down, the photographer who had been camped inside the hide since dawn, said that the owl usually went back to its roost after a successful hunt and then returned a couple hours later and also that it would often land on one of the poles right outside the hide, so I decided to wait for this rare opportunity.  And wait I did as two hours later, nothing.  Still nothing four hours later.  By five hours later, with the sun going down, I thought it must make a reappearance and in the orange light of late afternoon, I thought what a shot I would get now, especially if it came in close, but still no show.  Eventually, with the light fading fast and time running out for me, I reluctantly left, though even if I couldn’t have took another photo because of the poor light, it would have been worth just seeing this lovely owl again, but go I had too.


Snow capped hills in the distance



Although happy that I had seen a Barn owl in the wild for the first time on Saturday, I was left, from a photographic point of view, disappointed.  One of the photographers I was speaking to in the hide said about how some people were just lucky when it came to being at the right place at the right time.  I seem to require a lot more work when it comes to seeing wildlife.  With this in mind and the usual unpredictable weather and a forecast that seemed to be hedging its bets as to whether it was going to be nice or not, I hummed and hared about if I was going to go to my planned trip to the coast to photograph waders.

With the weather looking good but forecast bad, I decided to kit up and go, knowing I only had a short time to catch the tide coming in – the best time to see waders.  I arrived at my favourite patch of beach to find it still empty and some Sanderlings there.  I had just settled down when a family complete with dog came along the beach.  I had deliberately placed myself at the far end of this particular section of the beach, knowing there was a dead end past me, so if someone saw that I was at the end photographing they would hopefully, go no further, having some five miles stretch of beach to walk along already.

However, they did and their dog scared all the waders away and they then chose to stand right in front of me – doing nothing but standing there while their dog ran around, including around me.  After ten minutes I decided to go, packed up my gear and started to head off – so then did they, so I went back in the hope it wasn’t too late to catch some late arrivals on the high tide, settled in again then another family came up and did the same thing.  I decided it was time to find new pastures and climbed up a steep bank to reach the top of the cliffs.  Amazingly, so did they, following me.  With paranoia setting in, I decided to double back along the cliff and saw that ‘my stretch’ of beach was again empty again!

With my not being in the best of moods and thinking of calling it a day, I wandered around in the last hope of seeing something, but there was nothing on this cold, windy day.  About to give up, I came across a small pool of water and seeing some movement on the water I noticed some frogs.  I only had my 500mm lens but thought I would see what I could take.  Surprisingly, I was able to get some quite good close ups and lying down with the lens wide open at f4.5 giving me a shallow depth of field, I was able to take some photographs normally reserved for a close up lens.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, in this case it was in the shape of, of course, a dog who decided to walk around and over me, smudge the front of my lens with its nose and drink out of the pond which, unsurprisingly, made all the frogs disappear.  Paranoia rising again…


Sigma 500mm does ‘Macro’


Watching me watching you


ahem…they’re just good friends, really!


is it just me, or do frogs look funny!

I decided to head for one of the view points that overlook St. Marys wetland, at least it’s difficult for dogs to get to.  Not much happening, some Rabbits in the distance and a pigeon. 


Checking along each of these view points, I noticed four Curlews a short distance from the blind in front of the the wetlands.  Carefully, and quietly, I unpacked my camera and lens at which point, a couple come along and the man shouts ‘zoom lens’ at my connecting my lens to my camera.  This scared two of the Curlews away.  He then proceeds to ask how close can I get with that.   At such a obviously stupid inept question, I refrained from telling him what I thought of him, instead saying, quite close.   After scaring off another of the Curlews they thankfully left.

Finally, with some peace and quite and the sun coming out, I was able to take some photos of this bird finding plenty of juicy morsels.  I actually found it quite difficult taking photographs if it, knowing I had a very narrow depth of field I had to focus on its head which was small and constantly moving.  I also had a converter on the lens which slowed the focus down a bit as well, but was quite pleased with the results.




After some twenty minutes or so photographing this very cooperative Curlew, I headed for home, feeling a bit better than I did at the beginning of my trip.

After another weekend of getting used to the Sigma lens, I have noticed that it tends to attract attention, being quiet large, and it would appear, also attracts stupid questions.  I am also going to need a new bag, as my trusty AW Trekker cannot hold the lens with the camera attached which means I have to keep unpacking and packing it up again.  I’m already used to the weight of it and so far, have not found the lack of IS a problem as I use it in the same way I did with my 400mm + converter – resting it against poles, walls, my bag or using a monopod.  The focusing is fast and with the 1.4 converter, as fast as my 400mm was with it attached.  F4.5 is sharp and so feel happy shooting wide open.  I’m looking forward to the opportunities summer will hopefully bring.


  1. Pleased to find your blog. Very enjoyable read and stunning images. Excellent.
    Cheers, John

  2. Thanks for the comments John. Glad you like my blog.