It's a beautiful day for photography here at RSPB HQ in Bedfordshire with blue skies and snow everywhere. But I'm going to leave it to our guest blogger and photography expert, Tom Mason, to get you in the mood for getting out and taking some shots as he turns his lens onto grey herons. Here's Tom and a selection of his wonderful shots.
Gorgeous, grey and with longs legs to boot! Grey herons (Ardea cinerea for you Latin fans) are pretty cool characters. Scrap that, they are awesome birds. In the early part of the year they are a welcome treat for the photographer, breeding early, providing us with a fabulous subject to point our lenses at as a perfect pre season warm up, to the much anticipated beginning of spring.
In the UK, grey herons are found in practically every location where you find fresh water. From river banks to wetland reserves, herons will make their home around the country and are often also found in parks or large back gardens. Feeding on fish, small mammals, amphibians and just about anything they can find, they are found all year round with around 13,000 nest recorded annually. With such abundance and widespread availability, there’s no better subject to focus the camera on at this time of year.
What to look for
In February, herons can often be seen starting to search out possible nesting locations. Look out for birds soaring over woodland areas that are close to water, often chasing one another. The birds often perform on old nest platforms, tilt their heads side to side, erecting the crest plumes and calling consistently. It's a marvel to watch. Nest can be solitary or in groups with birds often choosing to take up residence together in heronries that can be found in many locations around the country.
Where to go
With herons found around the UK, heronries are a not a rare site. The large groups of birds congregating together is perfect for photography, increasing the number of available subjects as well as giving a larger view, for the habitat images as well.
With some of the colonies found in urban areas, such as regents park in central London, the birds are usually very accustom to the presence of humans, so don't worry if you don't have a huge or expensive telephoto lens!
A few great locations to try include…
Cleeve Heronry Nature Reserve (Avon Wildlife Trust)
Coed Llwyn Rhyddid (The Wildlife Trust for South & West Wales)
Attenborough Nature Reserve (Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)
Ellesmere (Shropshire Wildlife Trust)
Regents Park, London
St Albans Park, Hertfordshire
What to photograph?
The herons of course (just messing...)
With the subjects often in abundance making great images can often be more difficult than when you have less to work with. Focus your attention on a few subjects, if one Heron seems to be consistently more active than the rest, work with that individual, rather than randomly switching between multiple birds.
Have a plan for the images your would like to make, do some research and think about the poses and types of shots you would like to capture. A quick list could include, A head shot, a heron feeding, Flying up to a nest platform and then two or three birds together. A simple plan will focus your mind and help you to create better images.
With the heronries in consistent locations remember that you can keep coming back. Persistence will help you create better and better images, by the end of a month when you have made multiple trips, you will be sure to have not only some fantastic images, but also a great understanding about the lives of these wonderful creatures!
I would love to hear how you get on out in the field, Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto and to see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
The Nature's Home mailbox is filling up now our January issue has finished mailing - thanks for all your letters and e-mails. As usual, I am enjoying being thoroughly blown away by your photos and am having a difficult time choosing which ones to feature in the April issue. I'm pretty convinced that today, I have been sent the best picture of a bittern I have ever seen!
While you're getting ready for Big Garden Birdwatch this coming weekend, 24-25 January, have a look at our feature on RSPB Birdfood and how buying it is helping birds in your garden and our migrants making their way across continental Europe. Hopefully it will inspire you to stock your garden with birdfood in preparation for a successful Birdwatch this weekend. I look forward to hearing how you got on. Do let us know!
I couldn't resist sharing this brilliant cartoon sent in by Andrew Kay.You can see more of Andrew's work on his website at at http://invisibules.org