I love setting goals in wildlife photography for myself and I love it even more when I achieve them. A goal I set myself last year was I wanted to photograph a Dipper. I’d seen these great photos of them and thought to myself that I wanted to take some images of them and then some action shots of them. I was informed by different people of several places where dippers nest. Having visited all of them with no sightings I went my own way. So last February I started to walk along several rivers with my dog looking for dippers. February and March is a good time to look for these birds because they are thinking of setting up an area and finding and building a nest. It is also a good time for photographing wildlife on rivers because there are no leaves on trees to sap the light. Normally if you find one and they are there for a few days then they will be there for quite a while building a nest and rearing their young. Dippers normally nest in quite awkward places up underneath a construction like the underneath of a bridge for example. So when looking for these birds, you should also look for possible nesting sites. During these walks I spotted 2 dippers each on a different river. Therefore I went back to these regions to reconnoitre the area without my dog http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2015/10/reconnaissance-dippers-and-goldfinches & http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/5/my-nature-reserve-photography-and-reconnoitring-an-area-for-wildlife-photography I went back on 3 occasions each and at different times of the day to see what the light was like and to see if the dipper was there all day. During these times I also look for areas I can position myself either in a sitting or prone position looking for a bush or tree that will be at my back to hide my human shape. I adopt these positions and see, if I took a photo from there, what the background will look like. I also look to see if the wildlife, the dipper, is still in the area. The three times I returned to these areas the birds were still present. I picked my positions and returned with my camera equipment very early in the morning. I set myself up and then started to wait for the bird. Over the next four weekends I visited the areas on at least 6 occasions staying for about 4 hours on each occasion with no sighting of the bird. I was hoping that I might see a Grey Wagtail or even an Otter but in fact I did not see any wildlife except flies that kept biting me. I had insect repellent on but it appeared to be an attractor rather than a repellent! During the rest of the year, due to the no show, I did return to the area but only for a walk with my dog but I still did not see any dippers.
This February I returned to my quest and started a search for dippers once again. My other quest this year is to photograph a Cuckoo but that would not start that until April. I located 3 dippers and recommenced my reconnoitring of the areas. I chose my positions and started my vigil but once again after several weeks the birds had failed to appear when I had my camera with me, typical wildlife photography. I could guarantee that if I did not have my camera with me the dippers would be right in front of me doing cartwheels and the backstroke along the river! Once again I stopped bringing my camera and walked along the river with my dog. I saw quite a few images of dippers on Facebook and was really envious but it only spurred me on to get my own images.
In May I spotted two dippers on the river Tavy in an area quite close to where I live and only just down river from our nature reserve. The area was quite dark due to the amount of cover and with an ISO of 1600 I could only get 60th sec shutter speed. Whilst watching the birds I started looking for a possible nest site area and located a really good one further down the river. The area surrounding this possible nest site is half open which pushed the shutter speed up to 640th sec, now all I needed were the birds to confirm this might be their nest sight. Typical, once again they disappeared!!!!!
Last week I drove over the bridge that I thought was the possible nest site, my wife looked down on the river and informed me that there was a dipper on one of the rocks. As nobody was around I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. As I had reconnoitred the area previously, I said to my wife that I would return on Friday afternoon and see if I can get lucky.
So I returned on Friday afternoon at about 2pm. The dipper was not in sight so I set myself up and started to wait. The light was not very good and 200th sec was the most I could get with an ISO of 1600. I do not like using high ISO’s, it’s not because of the noise, because that can be dealt with by using noise reducing software, it’s because the fine detail, like feathers or hairs, disappears. After about ten minutes it turned up with a beak full of food and landed on the other side of the river. I cannot tell you the emotions that go through me when all the work I put in for my wildlife photography finally pays off. I nearly need to breathe through a brown paper bag to slow me down. For the next couple of hours I was photographing the birds which were coming and going collecting food for the young in the nest which was situated under the bridge, right where I thought is should be. Then the light started to fade so when the birds flew off I departed the area.
I returned early in the morning the next day and stayed for about 5 hours getting even more images. I was sitting with a tree / bush to my side and rear. Whilst there, a group of people walked onto the bridge, all wearing bright fluorescent clothing and carrying binoculars. They made such a racket shouting and screaming that I thought what was the point of carrying binoculars because with that row they will never see any wildlife. After a few minutes they moved on, the area returned to normality and I could continue photographing dippers. I was sat with my wellies dangling in the water and my monopod, fully extended about 180cm long, in the river with my camera about 30cm above the waterline. I tried to get some shots of the dipper flying along to the nest with its beak full of food but I nearly fell in the river so I gave that up. I find flight shots of birds are easier handheld rather than with a monopod. When the birds move away for a while I start thinking creatively and what shots I could achieve. Having thought of a few, and as the light started to get too harsh due to the sun and a bright blue sky, I decided to pack up and return the next morning with my tripod to achieve some of those shots I have in mind.
The next morning it was thick fog and raining, you know the very misty rain that does not look much but you get absolutely soaked. Never mind I will be back next Friday. Good Hunting (with a camera).
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I'll leave you this week with one of my photos of the Dipper from the two shoots. Within the next year I will post process more of the photos. At the moment I am on 2015 photos.