Posted on 8 March 2010, 19:28

A day off coincided with a really nice late Winter day – more like Spring, really – so I decided to do something I’ve been promising to do for ages: see what Hartlepool had to offer.

On the face of it, what is now an industrialised coastal coal port might not seem to have much to offer a bird ‘tog: Hartlepool headland is a renowned rarity spot, but this isn’t rarity season, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Still, only one way to find out…

I stepped off the train at the station in the town, with a pretty good idea of which way to head – Google Maps seemed to indicate that the walk from the station to the headland would be easy and short enough, and I’m sure it would’ve been – if I’d set off in the right direction!

Two and a bit miles later I reached the headland, and despite my best intentions I’d managed to miss the yacht marina and Jackson’s Landing – well known for their appeal to sea ducks, grebes and divers – completely.

Never mind, the headland turned out to be a cracking spot for waders and gulls, which is what I’d really come for. It’s a surprisingly pretty patch of coastline really – not like what I’d anticipated – and (joy of joys!) dogs, dog emptiers and dog crap were relatively scarce, presumably thanks to parts of the beach being subject to an outright ban on dogs for a fair chunk of the year; and to dog leash bylaws carrying fines of up to £1000 for breaches.

Northumberland County Council – are you reading this?

I was in the wrong spot for the light for a while (I’d come the wrong way, remember?) but while I was figuring things out I spent some time on the shore near the old town wall next to the river, watching – and being watched by – a Common Seal, a critter we don’t see further north. I got a few pictures, but nothing worth posting.

Plenty of gulls about though – obviously – including this Great Black-backed Gull. This isn’t particularly sharp – it’s an image that works for me in spite of its faults. I like the complementary tones shared by the bird and the water, the look of the water itself, and the wing-tip just brushing the surface:

Great Black-backed Gull

Around the corner, this young Ringed Plover hung around long enough for me to slowly approach and get down onto my belly for a bird’s eye perspective:

Ringed Plover

I’ve a fondness for Purple Sandpipers because although they aren’t rare, neither are they particularly abundant, and they are often very confiding – these two were quite obliging:

Purple Sandpiper (My favourite image of the day)

Purple Sandpiper

There were loads of Turnstones about, and I usually fill up on images of these birds – again, I appreciate their approachability and character – but nothing really leaps out as warranting posting.

One thing that I’ll mention though is that at one point, I managed to sneak up really close to a Turnstone that was bathing in a small pool, my intention being to take some eye-level shots of it splashing about, which I did.

Pleased with the effectiveness of my fieldcraft in getting as close to the subject, I chimped away – and was horrified to see that the pictures were all very out of focus.

Bugger! What’s all this?

Had the AF point caught up on the rocks in front of the pool? (I didn’t think so). Was there not enough contrast on the bird? (There was).

What the hell was going on?

I couldn’t help wondering whether this was an example of the unpredictable and inaccurate AF some 7D users have complained about.

Then I looked at the lens: yep, it was on the 6.5m AF stop instead of the 1.8m stop – and I was well within 6.5 meters of the bird!

User error, pure and simple.

More wandering around, more Turnstones and gulls under my belt and then I decided to waste some time chasing Oystercatchers.

I say waste advisedly, because they’re generally far too flighty to get within realistic striking distance of with a 400mm lens.

Today though, I more or less managed, and the croppability of the 7D did the rest – nothing amazing, but this is as good as any “Oyk” (or “Magpie Carrying A Carrot” as they’re sometimes called!) I’ve managed, and far better than most:


I’ll probably rework the Oystercatcher and the Gull in Lightroom 3 Beta 2 – I’m very happy indeed with the results I’m getting from this converter and it might even end up taking over from Cap One 5 as my favourite 7D converter: and I never thought I’d see myself writing that!

The Purple Sands and the Ringed Plover here are both Lr 3 conversions, and although they aren’t glaringly different in IQ terms from the Cap One conversions I’ve done, that fact alone is praise indeed, but Lr has better highlight recovery, local adjustments and other features I like, so I might yet become an Lr convert…

What do you think?

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