We awoke on the 27th to snow, only a little bit of snow here in Coventry, but enough to get our attention. We had intended to make a last visit, for this year, to Donna Nook in North Lincolnshire to see the seals. Alas the snow had been falling for several days in that area, and onto the motorways between us and our objective. So Donna Nook was out, it was just too far in poor conditions to travel safely and sensibly. We shall have to wait a whole year now to get back and see next years pups…… Ce’st la Vie.
Being the intrepid explorers that we are, or is it just that we were bored in the house, we decided to go back to Bradgate Country Park – much closer to our home at only 29 miles distance. We know from visits in previous years that the deer, for which the park is famous, tend to come out of the woods when it snows, in search of food. Bradgate Park is usually teeming with people at the weekends, thankfully the bitter cold and slippery conditions persuaded many of them to stay at home :-). So more wildlife to see, and less people to get in the way, great…. we got up, dressed like arctic explorers and off we go.
A slow drive on the motorways and in no time we turn off to Groby Pool. We always try to stop at Groby, it is a SSSi, is on the way to Bradgate and is usually a good spot to shoot ducks geese swans and gulls, as well as the odd small species. The only trick required is to take a loaf of bread – we planned ahead - LOL. A feed for the birds and a bunch of photos for us. None of the usual Goldfinches today – they were probably in the woods opposite – keeping warm. It was bitterly cold.
I had purchased a new lens a couple of days previously, well a second hand lens actually, but it is new to me :-) and actually it was purchased for me by the lovely Seri as a Christmas present, anyway, a Nikkor 12-24 F4 wide angle lens is now a part of our kit, so, attached to our ageing Nikon D200 we took it out for a test drive.
Needless to say everywhere is covered in ice, and the pool was frozen solid. Not so many birds around, but still Seri managed to get shots of a Redwing and a few Long Tailed Tits, as well as a hungry European Robin, Canada Geese and A few Mute Swans, both adults and youngsters. In harsh conditions all of the bird species become much more aggressive towards one another and fights are common.
Protection of their own access to food is obviously foremost in their minds – and who can blame them. One of the swans grabbed a Canada Goose by the neck and threw it across the nearby rocks. No mean feat – Canada Geese are large and robust birds – Swans may look serene, but they are mighty strong birds.
The usual hybridised ducks were missing, I guess they were off in search of open water further into the lake……… So Seri fed the birds, taking photos when she could as I alternated between my Nikon D300s with the Sigma 120-400mm lens and the D200 with the new 12 – 24. A nice little stop at Groby and off we go towards Bradgate.
Click the above image for a slideshow from Groby Pool
Between Groby Pool and Bradgate Park is a particularly steep hill - from the moment we decided to make this trip I had been saying to Seri we will not go down the hill – it will be a sheet of ice. Near Leicester I re-iterated the statement, at Groby again same decision. Yes – you guess correctly, we went down the hill….. It was a solid sheet of ice, so first gear, don’t touch the brakes, don’t touch the accelerator and off we go. All is fine apart from the last 5 meters no choice but to brake as we approached the cross roads with all the wheels locked up and sliding towards a 4wd vehicle which had decided to cross right in front of sliding vehicle…… Thank God for anti – lock brakes LOL managed to steer off to one side and eventually stop……
Bradgate is a wonderful place for anyone into photography, or wildlife, or indeed for those who just want to have a walk in pleasant surroundings. As I said above – there were much fewer people to be seen than on a more typical weekend.
So we went off into the park – first stop – to see our favourite bird, the resident Wigeon. We had seen several hundred of this species at Slimbridge WWT recently (see posting below) but still this noisy little blighter is firmly embedded in our hearts. As you approach he can be heard calling his name (wi-geon, wi-geon) as a high pitched whistle. He is a feisty little thing and holds his own pretty well amongst the larger mallards. The resident Black Headed Gulls, masters of flight, are always hungry and always provide great action for the cameras. There is to see at Bradgate than the Fallow and Red Deer.
That said, of course we go to look for the deer. Now the rut is more or less over there is a more relaxed atmosphere amongst the stags and bucks. The females are bringing last years young out into the open to feed and it is altogether easier to get better photos. the light is not great, of course and the winter sun creates shadows so long that it is all but impossible to keep them out of images where the sun is behind you, but that if life. We cannot control the weather, so we live with it and shoot what is there……
The new lens is holding up pretty well, easy enough to use, just no experience of shooting this wide an image, it will take a little time to work out I guess, but I'm happy with the results thus far.
We see and photograph lots of Fallow Deer, adult males, females and several youngsters. We also came across a large solitary Red Stag. This animal has the largest set of antlers we’ve ever seen at Bradgate. He was quite a sight to behold, very impressive.
Click the above image for a slideshow from Bradgate Park
A few more wide angle shots of Lady Jane Grey’s house and the surrounding scenery, Seri spots a Fieldfare high in a treetop, and a few more Fallow deer, and we are on our way back towards the carpark. We can’t go too far into the park, as I've said many times, illness is a restraint on our actions, but we manage to get some exercise and a lot of lovely photos.
As we are on our way out of the park we see a real treat, a large herd of Red Deer crossing the River Lin and dashing across the fields. Red Deer are large animals, when you see a lot of them together you cannot help but be impressed. A dominant stag within the group chased off a young pretender, and then led the group up towards the Old John monument (a Folly placed on the highest point of the estate).
Back to the carpark, both sweating profusely, but hey, it beats freezing. Rest for a while and then a slip sliding drive home. Lovely day, bitterly cold but beautiful scenery, beautiful animals and birds and a lovely time out together.
Wildlife photography is a wonderful hobby, even if you miss the shots, you still get out into the environment, you still see the sights hear the sounds and meet with all manner of adventures.
What can I say, we love it :-)