• Claire Stott

Bathing birds

The recent weeks have been unusually kind to us in terms of weather, in fact ever since lockdown we have had pretty much consistent sunshine which has made the whole ordeal much more tolerable. I expect we would be feeling much more glum by now if we had been stuck indoors each day!

On my daily trips out to the local patch recently I have been particularly enjoying watching and observing the birds interactions around the water’s edge.

On a hot day the water here is always a hive of activity and if you take a seat (or rather find the most comfortable rock) and just sit quietly the action to come right to you. The birds soon appear, eager to quench their thirst and take a refreshing dip in the shallows.

Thirsty starling

It’s not just the birds that find the water irresistible, bathing birds are one of my favourite subjects to photograph and I love the combination of colours, shapes and reflections the splashing water creates.

A female mallard flicking an arc of water with her beak

Pigeon bathing in a pool of blue reflections

Mallard breaking the water surface

As always, there are certainly species that are easier to capture in action than others. The mallards spend most of their time in the water, but they still enjoy a good bath from time to time to blast grime and parasites from their feathers. They are very approachable and unfazed by having an audience!

Mallard drake bathing sequence

The sound of their wings beating the water can be heard from quite the distance, and there is nothing particularly elegant about their technique although it is certainly effective!

Churning up the surface with powerful wing beats

Smaller birds such can pose more of a challenge to photograph in this way, but the results can be even more rewarding.

Bathing puts these birds in a very vulnerable position and exposed to potential predators. To compensate the starlings and house sparrows are often seen in small flocks and bathe together hoping that the ‘safety in numbers’ strategy will keep them safe.

Wet & dry

Safety in numbers

Provided you can get close enough to them, a starling engaged in a vigorous bathing session is a treat to photograph. Their flapping wings create a cascade of water droplets and their wet feathers dazzle with iridescence.

Head flick

The spin cycle

Iridescence wing feathers shining bright

The house sparrows sparrows are an even bigger challenge, and a much smaller target. Their tiny size means that their movements are incredibly rapid, and require a very high shutter speed to freeze any motion. Even with a 2000/sec the tips of this male sparrow’s wings are still a blur!

Flicking wings

I’ve always found it difficult to get images of the sparrows bathing that I am really satisfied with, often having to settle for heavily cropped, distant shots so as not to scare them away. Fortunately my most recent attempts were much more successful and I am pretty happy with these.

The only downside was the awkward positioning, with the female hidden behind her mate for most of the time. I daren’t move even a few inches however for fear of sending them darting back into the bushes.

Whilst the male was getting stuck in, his female was happy just to sit and observe, or perhaps she was keeping an eye out for danger? Even so she still received a thorough soaking!

Soggy sparrow

Share the ways you are staying in touch with nature during lockdown using hashtags: #naturetherapy #mentalhealth #neednaturenow

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2020 www.greyfeatherphotography.com

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#birdwatching #aberystwyth #birds #water #birdbehaviour #birdphotography #naturetherapy #birdbathing

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