Call of the Wild

05/06/2020 - 16:42
We are all riding the crazy Coronacoaster, an undulating journey into the strange world we all find ourselves in now. For the first five and a half weeks, our home and garden became the physical borders of our world entirely. This was a mixture of my partner having received the ‘shielding’ letter from the NHS, the kids and I having asthma and my anxiety issues. I soon found that connecting to nature to be my meditation. Deeply studying the wildlife in my garden, birds flying from and over my neighbours’ houses, watching the clouds evolve in formations, the light falling on the hillside opposite our home at the ends of the day.
Dunnock looking a bit stroppy in our garden
Waking early in uplifting warm light and hearing the dawn chorus is a beautiful thing – as the world wakes up and stretches slowly. There are aspects of the old ways of life of frequent tiredness; commuting on overcrowded trains; traffic in the city where I work drowning out much of the richness of bird song; that I have no yearning to rush back to the ‘way things were’. 
Despite being quite introverted, I do very much miss meeting up with my close friends and relatives. Seeing people in reality, not just through a video-call screen or waving to people down the street when we clapped for the keyworkers at the porch door on a Thursday night.
I really missed the opportunity to photograph the fledging and development of the next generation of Peregrines at St Michael’s church in Exeter this year. I seem to have replaced that currently with watching the antics of several local pairs of characterful Jackdaws on their chimney pot nest sites. 
Jackdaw dropping-in from a house uphill from our's
The yearning to escape these walls and the garden was constantly taunting me. The chance to wander in the woods, the heady aroma of bluebells and the soft lantern light through fresh translucent beech and oak leaves; to wander the ridgeway paths along undulating hills; to savour the deep time dives into high-banked ancient green lane holloways; to stand in the vastness of the high moors; to walk beside the rugged cliffs of Berry Head and along the South Hams coastline with peregrines, fulmars, and kestrels soaring alongside above an active sea.
Woodpigeons are nesting nearby in a couple of different gardens near our home. Pigeons are despite seemingly clumsy on the ground, as it happens, rather graceful fliers and adept at changing direction rather quickly. I now see why the peregrines I studied last summer must work hard to catch their food ‘on the wing’! I have come to learn the subtly of the posture changes that these birds make when they are about to launch into flight. In that acquired knowledge, with my thumb locked on the auto-follow (single-spot) focus on the bird’s head and my trigger finger ready I have been able to react fast enough to freeze the ‘launching’ and ‘landing’ stages of Woodpigeons and Jackdaws… as with peregrines, etc in the past.
Woodpigeon launching from one of our near-neighbours' roof
Jackdaw coming into land, early morning golden-hour
Since starting to write these thoughts  I have been reading a fantastic book called 'The Running Sky' by Tim Dee and it made me reflect on these recent pigeon photo studies, when he talks of "trying to make myself look at the pigeons, to go beyond simply noticing them, to look at these birds (and so all birds) and see them as if for the first time...". 
The suggestions, made by so many wildlife photographers and naturalists, to truly, madly, deeply study a species is something I can whole-heartedly endorse. It is rewarding to be able to predict what that animal is likely to do next, or soon – both in terms of our reconnections with nature and in the reward of the chance to make dynamic photographs too!
Now I have been wandering a little bit further from home on my early morning isolation walks, I have wandered into the hills, green lanes and woods nearby. Long-tailed Tits, Jackdaw, preening rabbits, the haunting voice of the curlew, a heron flying over a high hill, wildflowers in the meadow near home, slow worms in our garden, buzzards spiral riding the thermals, the operatic fanfare of a tiny wren – each a joy to see. To listen to the richness of the wildtrack soundscape in the woods is uplifting and a tonic to soothe the soul in a topsy-turvy world.
Buzzard riding a thermal above Follaton, Totnes - photographed from our back garden
“Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odourless, but all together perfume the air.”
Georges Bernanos
Getting up early and going for a walk, though healthy for the mind and body had recently started to become an obsession, according to my partner, so I have started having a couple of ‘lie-ins’ a week and some morning swapping the photo-walks with bike riding. Though on a recent mountain bike trip I was literally just about to start descending a trail in the woods when a buzzard flew low over me and landed in a tall redwood pine. Another bike session in the same wood, as I sat drinking a coffee from my flask a tawny owl landed above me in the tree I was leant against, that was a wonderful moment!
One morning I had the luck of noticing an elegant looking buzzard, framed high up by the twisted branches of a gnarly oak tree, and managed to photograph it launching into the early morning sunshine from this perch. I was already now more than half an hour later home than planned, that’s the thing with curiosity!
Earlier that morning I had been photographing shelducks and a cormorant nearby tidal creek, just as I was about to leave for home, more coffee and a bowl of porridge I heard a barking sound across the water – “No paths over there… a roe deer maybe?...that would be great”  I thought. My gaze wandered over to the far shore again and “yes, yes… four thin brown legs…definitely not fallen branches… there, under those oak leaves” then an antlered head appeared from the treeline. I lay prone on the foreshore in my camouflage, the SLR camera, and my 50-500mm lens resting on a camouflaged beanbag support - watching and making some considered photographs. The next half an hour was spent watching this wonderful beast walking along the strandline of the creek, stopping to eat fresh oak leaves and occasionally jumping over fallen trees until eventually, he melted into the verdant sylvan springtime shroud of estuarine oaks. I smiled all the way home, through breakfast, and on into the day.
Roe deer buck - Bow Creek, South Devon AONB
A couple of very early morning trips to Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve have been joyful, listening to Reed Warblers belting out their energetic songs to fuse with the early morning chorus of myriad birds. Watching the ever-entertaining Great Crested Grebes and especially the contemporary dance of their courtship displays. Such things are worth, especially in late May, getting out of bed ridiculously early for once in a while.
Great Crested Grebes having a 'face-off' gaze prior to their fascinating courtship dances - Slapton Ley NNR
The wild is always calling out from everywhere, I hear it’s beckoning song still resonating amongst the growing hum of the post-lockdown traffic. I feel compelled to keep the upstairs windows ajar to hear birdsong as I wake; to find time to go into my garden to observe and listen; to get up early and wander to the edgelands & the other 'important places' to absorb the sights and sounds more closely... again & again.


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