From late winter until early summer I spend a lot of my photography time on two of Northumberland’s rivers – the Glen and the College water – mainly to photograph the goosanders but also dippers, sandpipers and anything else that comes along. I am easily distracted!
Female Goosander with chick
The goosander is a fish eating duck that comes to breed on northern, upland rivers. It nests in holes in trees, so fast flowing rivers running near old hardwoods is an ideal environment.
Male Goosander 1
Identifying the parts of the river the birds use on a regular basis and are suitable for photography is the first step. I then build a temporary hide using branches with a piece of scrim netting thrown over it as near to the river’s edge and as low as possible to get that eye-level shot. The temporary hide bit is important, as the rivers rise in the Cheviot hills and the level can go up very quickly after heavy rain, washing the whole lot away, not so good if you spent a lot of money on a fancy portable hide!
Male Goosander 2
I like to get into the hide early morning before the wildlife really gets going and then wait, usually for several hours, which if you love wildlife as I do, is all part of the experience. The difficulties apart from the birds not turning up or getting spooked before they are close enough to photograph, are mainly down to the fact that you are trying to photograph a moving subject without it seeing you. Goosanders have been severely persecuted in the past and are very wary. They are also on what can be a very shiny surface, the river. The light reflected off the water changes constantly as the sun and clouds move, which can really fool the metering system of even the best cameras, so a move to manual settings is often needed to have any chance of avoiding over or under exposure.
The satisfaction I get from successfully photographing wildlife like this from scratch is fantastic and well worth any discomfort of lying face down on a cold river bank in spring!