The unsettled weather of the last couple of days had been nowhere as bad as forecast and today was no different. Some sunshine as well as a few dull spells but mainly dry. Myself and Thomas, one of the German photographers, were off to photograph Bee-eaters, but first we took a longish walk to the the top of a nearby hillside to see if we could find some exotic insects. I'm not in to insects really so I'm not sure what we hoped to see, but whatever it was didn't happen. Still it was good to get some exercise for a change, if you are not careful you can spend the week sat down. We passed through a little village that had obviously seen better days, in fact one of the lasting images from Bulgaria is the amount of abandoned and derelict buildings. Mass migration has taken it's toll and certainly the hardship of rural life on a hill top has little appeal to the youth of today. It was sad to see this once proud village now inhabited by old people, struggling to survive with a few animals to look after.
The Bee-eaters were to be found on a bank of earth where the road had been carved out of the hillside. The two hides were on top of the bank and looking over the valley below. This was another example of poor planning and execution.The hides had been cobbled out of used pallets nailed together and the nails were standing out proud at eye level. Perfect for taking an eye out ! The floor was bare earth and there were no chairs in the tiny individual hutches. Fortunately our guide and driver for the day had a Ford Galaxy style vehicle from which you can detach the seats so we sat on a couple of those. The perches were badly thought out, depending on which hide you sat in resulted in a different background bokeh and unfortunately the birds preferred the one with the poor bokeh when viewed from my position. Add to that the unnecessary extra twigs on the perch that interfered in the shot and you were left wondering . Why ?
The Bee-eaters looked superb though and at least they were taking off and landing from both behind us and in front so giving alternative views.
Bad bokeh,too many twigs !
Good bokeh, single twig !
Those twigs are really irritating!
Flight shots were extremely hard because the field of view out of your hutch was very narrow, the birds flew out from below you on the bank and by the time they gained hight they were too distant. The only time I came close was this one I think, capturing it just before it landed.
Overall, there wasn't too much action. Hardly a food exchange, or even food for that matter.I think the nearest to a bee was this one
However, there was enough to keep me enthralled until lunch time as you can also concentrate on portraits when there isn't much else going on.
Lunch had been arranged at a nearby bar/restaurant and with the promise of pizza cooked on the premises my appetite was whetted by the thought of a wood burning oven, delicious toppings etc. The journey so far had been a long way from a gastronomic treat but sadly it wasn't about to change. There was no choice of toppings as they were all identical and from the freezer, cooked at gas mark 6 no doubt. Ah well, never mind, we were there for the photography after all !
Afternoon activities hand't been organised so when a trip to the floating hide was suggested I readily agreed, it was just a case of finding someone else who wanted to go. I wasn't sure what Mike was doing and I had agreed to go there with him in two days time, but what the heck, I could always go twice if it was worthwhile. As it happened, on ringing his driver,Christian decided he'd come with me so off we went as soon as he'd been delivered to our bar. It involved a two hour drive but it seemed that we had time to spare when we arrived as it was only around 3.00pm and the target species of Little Bittern don't really appear until after 5.00pm.
We wandered around the banks of the fishing pond where the hides were to be launched and the sound of Great Reed Warblers rang out everywhere but they couldn't be seen.What did surprise me was the number of Grass Snakes in the water, they were everywhere.
I thought of one or two people who might not be too keen to share a pool with so many of these pond dwellers, one of them was due there in two days time !
The other interest was at least one pair of Coypu.
This one badly in need of a toothbrush and a dental visit I think !
The time to enter the water duly arrived, we had been told to expect it very cold and therefore our time had to be limited to a maximum of 2 hours, so we had hung on until 5.00pm. We were issued with waders, Christian got the neoprene pair which went further up his body than the pair of rubber ones I had. Still, the water didn't feel cold which is just as well as it seeped over the top of my waders when I went in deep water or bent down to try taking a photo.
Here's Christian re enacting the Battle of Jutland
This time the Royal Navy lost with me coming off worst. By the time I got out the water was up to my thighs inside the waders, Christian remained dry but we did have a good laugh about it !
On the photographic front I won. It was a case of right place right time. Pure luck.
When Christian has wandered off to deeper water a Little Bittern appeared briefly, but long enough for me to nail the shot I wanted.
We had both been close by to a Great Reed Warbler when it appeared, in fact too close. With limited field of view especially through a 500mm lens, it was pure luck I found it before it disappeared up a reed.
My water adventure was cut short by the amount of water I had shipped in to my waders. It reminded me of the incontinence trouser joke Billy Connolly used to tell. I think I took about 8 Little Bittern shots in one sequence and 4 Warbler shots in two more. Not a lot really but it was worthwhile as they were both firsts, in fact I hadn't even seen a Little Bittern previously. Once in the water there was no sign of a snake, even the Coypu had vanished but a passing herd of cows entered the water for a drink as did a German Shepherd Dog out for a walk. At least I hadn't swallowed any water, that could have been nasty !
Lucky, the driver asked if I had brought spare clothes ( as was suggested when options were discussed a couple of days earlier) but I hadn't had the opportunity to bring any as I hadn't been back to the hotel since the decision to come had been taken. It was typical of the organisation but I didn't care that I had to travel back in just my underpants and fleece top.. I had got my shots.
and that's what mattered.
We were late to arrive back at the hotel but the beers went down well again with stories to tell, plenty of laughs to be had !