Setting an agenda when when it comes to photographing wildlife can often be frustrating, especially when your subject lives a life based on happenstance as is definitely the case when trying to photograph a bird that searches for carrion. If it is relying on roadkill, the demise of its prey is unpredictable, and I am certainly not going to drive around trying to oblige raptors by chasing foxes and rabbits with my car!
So in making a plan to specifically look for red kite within a short drive from home is always more in hope than anything else. I did have a location in mind, but on arrival with blue sky edge to edge, there was no sign of any birdlife or even birdsong – the only birds aloft, rose beyond the hill from Luton Airport! I hung around for thirty minutes, and took some shots of cyclists riding uphill towards me, and the lead man asked did I get a shot, to which I replied yes, but I was hoping for Red Kite, he shouted back head for Whitwell. I took his advice and drove downhill and just beyond Stagenhoe Bottom spotted to men chatting outside some cottages and was about to stop and ask them when beyond and above them I spotted a pair of Kites, so I found a narrow lane and parked up, only to see them head off higher and into the far distance.
I found that below where I had stopped was a ford and to the right extensive wetlands; it turns out it was some newly dredged ponds diverted from the river Mimram. A short while later, a man approached and he mentioned that there was a better parking spot just up the road, and he was one of those I had spotted chatting. It turned out that he lived in one of the cottages and he said I was welcome to come into his garden which ran down to the water’s edge. He was very amiable and chatty and was an ex-teacher, and he was able to tell me quite a bit about the local wildlife, suggesting other likely locations; one of which after leaving him I visited, and it was a pond I had visited before.
When I had parked, I quietly approached so as not to frighten any of the birds I saw both on the banks and in the water. The strangest bird was largely black and white with a red nobbly bit above its beak (there is probably a technical term for that!) I characterised it as a duck, yet it did not have an obvious duck’s bill. When I first saw it it was swimming low in the water, but it soon came ashore to give itself a grooming, and I therefore tried to get shots that captured its behaviour. Behind me on telegraph wires I spotted a swallow, and it spent a good deal of time singing, so I also took shots that allowed me to see its eyes. I was under the impression that swallows never landed, and I had never been this close to one before. I learned later that the strange ducklike bird was a Muscovy Duck, and what from one of my books seemed like a red-rumped swallow was in fact a bog-standard, vanilla, common swallow!
Later I was to see some longhorn cattle, flowers, a peacock, some black sheep and their lambs and a lone Pied Wagtail, before returning home.