There is a great story circulating the Internet at the moment about the BBC Wildlife Photographer Gordon Buchanan sitting in a perspex cage in Svalbard waiting to film polar bears – he gets more than he bargained for – but he captured on film some images that few people will ever see in the real world.
And this got me thinking about one of my own experiences as a wildlife photographer – no where near as dramatic as polar bears but none the less a site that few people will see let alone be fortunate enough to capture on film.
I shoot a lot of birds of prey, in particular Red Kites. These spectacular birds were once hunted to almost extinction in the UK, but after a successful re-introduction programme the species is thriving once more.
Red kites are a chestnut red with striking white patches under the wings and a pale grey head. Viewed from above, a broad white crescent curves across the inner part of the wings, but it is the underside that produces the most startling image.
The head is equipped with hooded amber eyes ringed with lemon yellow. The beak, wickedly hooked and very sharp, is designed for tearing meat and killing small prey animals.
It has a wingspan of nearly two metres, but a relatively small body weight of 2 – 3 Ibs. This means the bird is incredibly agile, and can stay in the air for many hours with hardly a beat of its wings.
There is a Red Kite feeding station in Powys, North Wales, which attracts up to 400 of the birds daily. It was at this feeding station where I captured a site on film that I had never seen before.
Every day the site owner hauls his tractor up to the feeding site and unloads several dozen kilos of raw beef onto the ground. Within a matter of moments the birds descend onto the meat and pluck it from the ground to be eaten on the wing/
It was whilst shooting this behaviour that I heard lots of squeals and whistles above me and looking up I saw a mass of birds – I immediately pointed my lens to the sky and kept my finger on the motor winder shooting at 9fps. The “event” I had witnessed was over in a split second and I didn’t realise what I actually had on film until I got home and downloaded the images.
The sequence shows a single red kite carrying a large piece of beef in its claws, this kite was attacked by a number of other birds after the beef – not unusual behaviour at this site, but often it happens out of site or too high in the sky to be witnessed. The naked eye saw only a mass of feathers in this instance, it was the camera that caught the sequence and slowed it down to see each frame.
These images have been published around the world.
Best – Colin
- BBC Cameraman Has a Very Close Encounter with a Polar Bear (laughingsquid.com)
- Kites defy gloom to fly higher than ever (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
- BBC cameraman films close call with polar bear in new nature documentary (telegraph.co.uk)
- Ten birds to look out for along the Wales Coast Path (visitwales.co.uk)