Usual Suspects, and something you don't see every day

Posted on 2 January 2011, 19:39

Yep, another day when light was at a real premium. Predictably, the weather forecasters had said it would be really sunny, so my partner-in-crime Mark Mowbray and I decided to spend a few hours up the coast at Amble – just to blow the cobwebs away as much as anything, but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the place because there’s always something around to point a camera at, if only the local Eider ducks.

Sadly, the unremitting greyness of the weather meant that although the Eiders in the tiny square harbour were typically obliging, images of them had little of the “pop” and presence you usually get with this species in good light. So the best I could do on the day were these 1000 ISO images, both heavily processed to put back some life:


Eider drake, Amble Harbour


Eider duck, Amble Harbour

Needless to say, as soon as we’d run out of chips, the Eiders abandoned us, so we strolled along to the tiny little beach just south of the south pier.

I was pleased to see that a healthy number of Sanderling and Turnstone were about and that – for a change – it wasn’t festooned with dog-emptiers (although one such tool intentionally walked straight at Mark and I as we were on our bellies shooting the Sanderlings, scattering the birds as he approached: there’s no bloody way it wasn’t deliberate), but the light really didn’t lend itself to quality wader images anyway.

Mark wandered up the beach a bit as I persevered with the few waders that hadn’t buggered off thanks to the tosser with the dog, and I soon realised that Mark was on something – and, judging by his posture and the angle of the lens – it was close by.

I sidled up to him, expecting to see a Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit or some other regular beach-goer.

What he’d found was a Goldfinch. Not at all rare, but this is the first time I’d ever come across one “working” a beach (with some success too) and, interestingly, it was exceedingly confiding. I’m sure it was healthy (starving or moribund birds are often very approachable, for all the wrong reasons) but this little thing was seemingly doing fine, and was simply wrapped up in exploiting whatever it was feeding on.

Now I’ve never really bothered putting much effort into photographing Goldfinch – pretty as they are – simply because the de facto “standard” for Goldfinch images is a portrait orientation shot of a bird on a Teasel against a completely OOF background – and those images bore me rigid.

But here was a bird indulging in some pretty uncharacteristic behaviour, and in surroundings I’ve never associated the species with. Add to that the approachability of the bird, and of course I was going to make the most of the chance!

1000 ISO again, but with a little work these have come up pretty nice, I reckon – all more or less full frame too:


Goldfinch, Amble beach


Goldfinch, Amble beach


Goldfinch, Amble beach


Goldfinch, Amble beach


Goldfinch, Amble beach

It just goes to show. I’d pretty much written the day off before we’d even reached Amble because it was so dull (I don’t want to be at 1000 ISO: even if your camera works well at high ISO – as my 7D surely does – this awful grey light sucks all the colour out of the world), but in the space of a few minutes my entire day had been brightened up immeasurably, just by spending time with this little bird.

The day’s results are doubly satisfying, given that my magic little Canon 100-400mm lens is on its way out thanks to a failing AF drive motor…

That’s why I love doing this – there’s always a chance of a surprise that puts a silly grin on my face!



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