Up at the crack of dawn, a quick double espresso and off we went, me in the driving seat. Some of the back country roads are extremely pot holed but whilst maintaining a reasonable speed I managed to avoid most of them. The headlights picked up a Wild Cat as it disappeared into the long undergrowth besides the road and a little way further on we came across a Nightjar sat in the road. It was another "lifer" for me. I have seen them in India and Africa but never the Common Nightjar we get here in Europe. Sitting perfectly still in the headlights we could have attempted photographs but we were on a mission. Sergey had instructed we had to be in the hide by 5.30 am to avoid disturbance and we decided he had miscalculated the dawn slightly, it seems to be getting light earlier than predicted.
We made it with 10 minutes to spare and in the dark and with the aid of a torch which fortunately Mike had brought we gingerly made the ascent up in to the hide.
Seen here in daylight you can see the way we had to go !
Once inside we settled down in anticipation of what might be. Named the "Oriole hide" we obviously had high hopes of capturing some half decent image of this shy beauty.
First visitor was this Great Spotted Woodpecker. In very low light the best shutter speed I could get was 1/60th of a second. Provided the bird stayed still it might be OK.
When it started drilling on the wood it was just a blur but then it flew under the hide and started drilling against the metal supports. What a racket ! All our efforts to get there early to minimise disturbance and we could barely hear ourselves think ! Oh well, after a while it left and then we had it.
The first visit from the male Oriole. What a stunner!
Unfortunately I got the shot all wrong. Still on a low shutter speed of 1/80th sec and the lens wide open with a 1.4 TC now attached to my 500mm lens I lacked sufficient depth of field leaving the bottom half of the bird out of focus. Ah well, hopefully it might return.
It could have been worse of course
I could have had the bottom half sharp and a blurred head!
We photographers are never satisfied. We had had a result and now I was already thinking it's not good enough!
What happened next was even more so !
An Ortolan Bunting landed. It was another "lifer". Fantastic !
I immediately got the camera on it and pressed the shutter button.
Quick, before it flies. That's a strange pose, there must be a raptor about.
Unbelievably the male landed and I was still ready with my finger on the button.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Pure luck!
I had previously increased my shutter speed to 1/320th of a second but it clearly wasn't enough.
A mixture of elation and disappointment. You don't get chances like this very often and you have to make the most of them when you do. I felt I hadn't.
Oh well, before long the next visitor was on one of the dead branches of the walnut tree.
The light was getting better all the time, shutter increased to 1/500th was starting to get sharper images.
Two Turtle Doves on a distant wire were starting to get very friendly. The male going through the routines but the female didn't seem too keen and flew off with him following.
We saw quite a few Turtle Doves but they are very flighty, probably as they have recently flown the gauntlet of Malta and Cyprus and enjoyed being shot at many times. This was the only record shot I took.
With the light now improving rapidly I got my first shots of the female Oriole. From my position in the hide I was the lucky one who could get on to it.
Two hours gone and we had had a fair amount of excitement. We had been warned that after 9.00am the chances were it would not be worth staying for more Oriole shots. It was already 7.30am.
Suddenly the female returned and this time in plain view of everyone. It showed openly for several minutes but as you can see, not at her best.
Sergey has another hide in the garden, complete with drinking pool.
Another bird which seemed elusive and yet extremely common was the male Red-backed Shrike. Very strange, the females were far more confiding, the males off the minute you got anywhere near close. A pair landed right in front of us.
and not long afterwards this lovely Jay
It was now 8.55 am, Mike and I were discussing what we would love to see next and both had mentioned a repeat visit of the Ortolans. As if we had a magic lamp they appeared and this time I was ready the minute I recognised the pose !
Down he came as expected
Even at 1/2000th of a sec there was still motion blur.
but I was much happier with these shots.
That was it , all over in a fraction of a second it seems.
It was past 9.00 am now, only by 2 minutes but the Oriole hasn't got a watch.
I would have missed this shot if Mike hadn't pointed out the bird had landed. I was shooting something else!
Things did go quiet, perhaps 9.00am was the end of the action but then at 9.40 we had some cracking views of the male Red-backed Shrike.
an straight afterwards the female Ortolan returned yet again.
Unfortunately the male landing was aborted. I was left to rue the clipped wing and that was the last we saw of them. Still, I was very happy with what I had got.
Pretty satisfied already but there was more to come though. Defying predictions the male Oriole returned at 10.30.
By now the wind had picked up a little and the leaves of the Walnut tree were being blown across my view. Once again the bottom half of the Oriole not as I would have liked but not a total disaster.
Happy days indeed. With this amount of luck what could happen next !
In fact it was a House Sparrow. Even they look really good when they want to.
We couldn't really ask for more. Mike and I both have a ambition to photograph Wryneck and we had hoped we might just get lucky here but it was not to be. However, we did get an opportunity with the Lesser Grey Shrike. These birds tend to stay at the top of the trees so photographing them is not always easy. The tower hide was ideal.
We only had one visit but it offered a few alternative poses.
although sometimes as with other birds, the wrong side of the branch was chosen.
With the sun getting brighter and the temperature hotter we decided to leave the hide. Cautiously descending the narrow spiral steps.
We had though about returning in a few hours but eventually decided that we would return to Durankulak.
The whole trip was judged a success. Great hotel, for me three "lifers", well birds anyway. Mammals seen included the Wild Cat en route , and from the tower hide we also had a Golden Jackal in the fields below us. Locally we saw a Fox too. All in all enough to take the decision to go back to base.
Later in the after noon we went down to the reed beds on the edge of the Sunflower fields to see what was about. Not a lot in truth and the only addition to my photo portfolio for the trip was a Tree Sparrow pretending to be a warbler.
No, this wasn't where I wanted to be. I had spent the last few days thinking about the Little Stints, the breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpipers and Grey Plovers.
We had the hides, tomorrow we would stake them out !