By The Byes...
PUBLISHED: 12:31 29 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:33 02 August 2017
Photographer Alex Walton searches for an elusive kingfisher in the tranquil green space in the heart of Sidmouth.
I am passionate about photography, but not so keen at having to get up at twilight. Still, early bird and worm I guess.
First light is usually the ideal time to photograph wildlife as few people are around, birds and insects are just waking up and the golden sunlight after dawn often creates superb lighting conditions. For the past month I have been on the trail of a kingfisher, which I heard had been seen fishing in the River Sid in the The Byes. I have only ever seen a kingfisher twice before; the first time was during a census of bird populations at a local reserve and the second was last month, however, this was in Longleat, not Sidmouth!
They are notoriously hard to spot, let alone photograph, I have never managed to capture one in the wild before. Kingfishers can usually be found darting along slow-moving water courses and pausing to watch for fish. I have often heard fellow photographers describe how they have seen a mere flash of blue when trying to catch one on camera.
The Byes’ riverside park stretches for little over a mile between the Old Toll House on Salcombe Road and the playing fields of Sidford. The park consists of a series of fields and rolling meadows running alongside the River Sid which, at around six miles in length, is the smallest river in Devon. Many people enjoy the delights of the parkland, which caters for runners, walkers, cyclists, dog owners and anyone else for that matter, even photographers. The park is a wonderfully tranquil belt of green in the heart of Sidmouth, providing a breath of countryside air to whoever wishes to step out of the town life for an hour or two.
I love visiting The Byes in summer and taking a stroll along the river in search of dragonflies and damselflies at rest on the banks. It’s remarkable to be able to see the veins of their large wings and alien-like heads close-up through a zoom lens. Local volunteering group, Friends of The Byes, does an amazing job at managing many parts of the riverside park and, with the support of the Sid Vale Association (SVA), have planted a number of wildflower lawns and meadows for the public to enjoy. These flowers have provided me with many opportunities to practise using my macro lens to photograph the small creatures hiding among the petals of poppies and cornflowers. The beauty and fragrance of these flowers alone is worth getting up for at 4.30am. After several fruitless visits to the riverside, I had nearly given up on my hunt for the elusive kingfisher. This was to be my last attempt as the weather was set to turn and I hadn’t so much as seen a flash of blue.
I arrived at The Byes for 5.30 when the sun had yet to climb the banks of the river and I located the area where the small bird had previously been seen. I scouted around for a good viewpoint, got down to the river’s edge and walked along an outcrop of pebbles where I set up my tripod, mounted my camera and waited. The sun began to streak through the trees, which shrouded the river banks and I spotted, flitting around the shallows, a grey wagtail with its morning catch.
I had a great view of the area, but after an hour of waiting decided to fold my tripod and move on to another spot. But, no sooner had I left the water’s edge, I heard a chitter and saw a streak of blue dash overhead. It was indeed a kingfisher and luckily the bird paused, perching itself on a branch with a view above the river where it watched for fish. I dashed over to get a clear view and managed to click the shutter several times before it flew away. Perseverance had paid and I could strike another subject off my photographic bucket list.
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