Over the past few months I have been revisiting the same place every weekend. It’s been absolutely amazing and here’s why:
The place in question is Stockgrove County Park, in a small village called Heath and Reach in Bedfordshire. I used to visit this location as a child and a teenager as I lived in a nearby town. As a young child it was for weekend trips with the family to feed the ducks and have a few hours running around. As a teenager my friends and I would bike there just as a place to get away from it all before biking home again. I had never taken the time to really look around and appreciate the area.
One thing I did remember about the park and the lake was that it had Mandarin Ducks. One day in January, I decided to take a trip to the park and see if I could get any photos of these colourful and exotic birds. Spoiler alert - I could not! But, I did discover other things and this kept me coming back over and over again.
I discovered on my first visit that the birds were fearless. They would hop into trees right next to me and some, especially the Robins, would sing their hearts out just a foot away from where I sat. It didn’t take me long to discover why the birds seemed so tame when I saw some visitors put some seeds down on a wooden fence. The birds loved it and had no problem coming down to feed with all sorts walking past them and making noise.
I was blown away and snapped as many photo’s as I could. There was no sneaking or camouflage needed as these birds have probably been feed by visitors for years and have gotten used to human presence. I was pleased with the morning’s photography and the cherry on top was that I had captured images of Nuthatches and Coal Tits. I had never seen these before, let alone been able to photograph them. It was a good day and I knew I would be back very soon.
My next visit I had exploration on my mind. I knew where I had seen the birds previously and where the seeds had been left, but for photography it wasn’t a great location. It was shielded by dense bushes not letting a lot of light through and it meant the birds were landing on manmade structures. I planned to get away from this area and find some more actual perches for the birds. I explored for a few visits getting better nature images each time, until I found a really good location with a fantastic perch for the birds to land on. I could set up shop here and let the birds come to me instead of running around trying to capture them in the trees.
I couldn’t have been happier with the images I started to get in this location. It was only a short walk from the path and area I had seen the birds on my first visit but the different appearance and atmosphere from these images were worlds apart. I had a chance to step back and take my time over the images instead of being desperate to capture what I could before they flew away. I started to try and concentrate on my backgrounds, moving slightly to make sure the background was not too bright and everything was the same distance away to get a good blurry background.
Taking my time, observing the behaviour between the different birds was really paying dividends and I was really enjoying myself. I had already seen and photographed things for the first time and it didn’t stop.
For the first time, I photographed a Jay. I was so excited! I had seen them for a few visits but they hadn’t come close enough, instead hiding in the tree too high up for any good images. All of a sudden, I had a pair of them really close. Everything I had been concentrating on went out the window and I just had to get a picture, no matter how bad the surroundings. Fortunately, one of them came out ok. Another bird I was delighted to see was a Goldcrest. It came out of nowhere and really surprised me. I haven’t been able to get a good photo of it yet, but you can be sure I will keep trying.
Some other notable encounters I have seen have been a pair of hares and a stoat. I would have never seen these or managed to produce the photographs I have without re-visiting multiple times. It has given me the opportunity to explore, find good locations and observe the behaviour to rapidly improve the quality of the photos I was taking. I have enjoyed my time at Stockgrove greatly and will continue to visit throughout the year.