My intention was to drive down to Catcott and hunt a barn owl or two. So half an hour later I found myself standing in a field, surrounded by buttercups and flag iris. Around me flew swallows, from every shrub and tree garden, willow and cetti's warblers made merry with the still air, now the wind had dropped, filling the dusk with an evening chorus. Young cattle bounded and skittered across the field and stood looking at me, not quite knowing what to do until a Buzzard flew across the field, something to chase and they were off. Leaving me to my reverie. On the river, a dozen or more mute swans, a shovler and a selection of mallard, completed a pastoral scene of England, accentuated by Glastonbury Tor in the distance. I was at peace with the world. Sadly though not a single barn owl came into view.
All was not quite peaceful actually. One of the dangers, if that is the right word word, of being on the Somerset Levels at dusk, are mosquitoes, midge and a whole host of bitey annoying little fellahs. I was scanning along the hedgeline hoping to spy a barn owl, but above me there was a constant high pitched humming and buzzing as a cloud of flying insects gathered above me poised to feed. I took a photo (above). If you look closely, there are a few spots on there but that could have been dust on the lens. So a brainwave, put the flash on....................
What a difference and I just think this is beautiful in it's own right. doesn't matter what these are. Like stars in the sky. Those insects are now caught for all time, when we all know in a day or so they will be no more. I had to try another.
It was about 9.30pm now and the light was fading fast. First then a daylight shot taken without the flash (above). Nice in a way but not much to see. But switch the flash on and WOW!!! an absolutely breathtaking photo which really made me think, wildlife is art, art is wildlife. Unplanned but beautiful. Before then I'd not thought of taking photos of insects with the flash, but the effect for me at least was a revelation. The Sky at Night!
That was a good enough end to my visit to the Levels. So at 9.45pm as it was getting seriously dark, I walked back to the car. Something told me to take a detour on the way home. Unsure why, I drove down a very narrow track and in doing so careered headlong into a bat bonanza. In the car headlights, bats wheeled and whirred in all directions, picking off unsuspecting moths trapped by an automotive moonbeam.
Spurred on by my gnat flash photos, could I bag a bat the same way. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so now, even though after 10pm and nearly dark I began.
First of all this was the scene using the camera and the flash off. It was dark, but all around me bats flashed just feet away. Flash on, and after a couple of failed attempts, the third photo, bingo, what a stunner!
Then the bats came thick and fast, it was almost like the flash was attracting them, or maybe it attracted insects as all of a sudden there were bats everywhere. Sadly after the success of the above photo I never got the bat velocity to Andrew's trigger finger ratio in total harmony. I got the bats but they were a bit distant, those blobs in the middle of the photo (but click to enlarge for a better view).
But hey it was now 10.30 and I thought well, you've had a darn good evening Andrew, time to head home, cocoa, slippers and look at the photos in the warm on the laptop. Just one last photo though. Honestly this was the very last photo I took and what a banker of a shot. Top stuff for me. Just a hand held camera and the speed of my eye and finger co-ordination, no fancy electronics and trigger switches, just being there the right place at the right time. I'm pleased as a punch.
And what are they? Well I believe Noctule bats because of the rich creamy red underside, but more than happy for anyone with more knowledge than me to put me right on that one. I just enjoyed being out on the Somerset Levels in the dark, seeing wildlife in a totally different way.
Sorry Springwatch, I'm sure it was a great programme, but this was better.