Guest Blog – Cathy on local wildlife.
One of the best aspects of lockdown has been the opportunity to explore locations close to home. It has been amazing to discover new places within walking distance from my front door. I have become expert on every public right of way and alleyway in all directions! It has also given me the opportunity to practice my wildlife photography.
It was surprising how many beautiful spots I could get to – local nature reserves, Basingstoke Canal, Wey Navigation, Woking Golf Course, Horsell Common and many lakes, wildflower meadows and overgrown footpaths that I had never been to before.
Having spent all his life in Woking, Andy would often reminisce about some of these locations – the last time he had been there was when he was a little boy playing with his friends. He even recognised the trees he used to climb! Yet despite this, we still found places he had never seen.
We regularly venture out at dawn, both to avoid too many people but also in order to capture wildlife and the beautiful sunrises. Evening walks have also resulted in some lovely light and stunning images.
One of my favourite locations is around Papercourt Meadows near Old Woking. A layer of dense mist often shrouds the landscape in the early mornings, leaving dew covered cobwebs and distant ghostly shadows of the resident cows as dawn approaches. The only sounds are the reed warblers along the riverbank, as crepuscular rays of sunlight break through the trees.
On one morning I was lucky enough to see the distinctive ghostly white of a barn owl flying past. I have seen the barn owl at this location on a few occasions and it is always a thrill to watch it hunting over the meadows. Capturing a decent wildlife photograph can be tricky – trying to pan along as it flies at speed across the landscape or zooming in on it perched on a distant post, listening out for its prey.
My mission to explore every footpath has resulted in me climbing over broken stiles and battling my way through chest deep nettles and bracken. However, one of these forays was particularly rewarding – I heard squawking from the tree above and looked up to see a large nest box with a kestrel perched on the edge! From the sounds that could be heard, there were clearly chicks inside but it was only after a couple of further visits that one of them poked its head up and looked at me.
I snapped a photo and it was only when I got home that I spotted there was a second little beady eye behind the first one!
I hope to return to the location again to see how they are progressing, although I am always careful to stand a good distance away (the 100-400 lens helps!) and not to stay too long, so as not to disturb them or prevent the parents returning to the nest box with food.
Other wildlife sightings on my walks have included grey heron, cormorant, lapwing, whooper swan, kingfisher catching fish, slow worm, skylark, red kite, buzzard, peregrine falcon, fox, deer, grey wagtail, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker and lots of waterbirds with cute chicks – ducks, coots, moorhens, greylag geese, canada geese and great crested grebe. Most of the time, the resulting attempted photos have not been worth sharing here!
Earlier in the year I visited the local lake several times to watch the progress of the great crested grebe and chicks. They are always lovely to watch, as they look like little fluffy black and white humbugs! They sit on the mother’s back, nestled cosily amongst her feathers and it is interesting to see them pop off for a little swim and then work their way up onto her back again.
The final shot is one of the grebe chicks – its eyes similar to how I usually look after my alarm goes off at 4am for another dawn excursion!