With spring around the corner I thought it would be a good time to write about a few of my favourite nature reserves. Although winter is a fantastic time for nature photography with lots of wildlife spectacles that only happen at this time of the year, once spring has sprung nature really gets going. Plus it’s great to be outside with the warm sun on your face.
One of the hardest things about wildlife photography has nothing to do with photography at all. Finding a subject to photograph in the first place is the hardest part, I think. There are lots of ways to locate an animal to point your lens at. From visiting your local park or lake where the wildlife is quite used to people, to spending time at a nature reserve, to setting up your own feeding station somewhere to entice the wildlife to you.
I think nature reserves have a lot going for them. They are quiet and peaceful places to visit, full of real wildlife. You may well need to spend a long time waiting for something to turn up but that’s part of the fun, really! I’m happy to visit any reserve. They all have something to offer from great wildlife sightings to excellent tea shops in many cases.
There are a number of reserves that I visit on a regular basis. The Essex wildlife trust’s Blue House Farm is my local reserve. I think it’s a great place to take wildlife photographs or indeed just to visit and soak up the atmosphere. The reserve consists of grazed fields, lagoons and scrapes which attract a range of diverse wildlife including water birds such as avocets and lapwings, birds of prey including marsh harriers and kestrels, and at this time of year if you’re lucky, boxing brown hares.
A little further away is the RSPB reserve of Rainham marshes which nestles against the side of the Thames. Again, this reserve has a fantastic array of wildlife including the much loved water vole. Rainham Marshes has a huge section of reed beds which attract many specialist species, such as bearded tits, reed buntings and water rails. Add to this some birds of prey, large numbers of water birds plus red foxes and you have the ingredients for a great day’s photography.
Last but not least is RSPB Minsmere, which is a really large nature reserve in Suffolk. Last spring it was featured on BBC’s Spring Watch. This reserve has got a great diversity of habitats including a number of fresh water scrapes, reed beds, woodland and coast area. This means there’s a good chance of seeing lots of wildlife. Again though, you will have to be patient, wildlife runs to its own time schedule, not ours.
I have photographed many animals here over the years including bearded tits, lapwings, marsh harriers, starling murmurations, geese, ducks and deer. I think one of my best experiences did not involve photography at all. Last spring I was at Minsmere early one morning and heard the unmistakable sound of the bitterns booming. It’s something you never forget.
So why not visit a nature reserve this spring? After a long, cold winter it’s a real tonic to be out and about with the sun your face.