Monday, 17 February 2014

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) - Wilstone Reservoir 30th Oct 2012

Nearly all of my attempts to digiscope our rarer grebes have been at some distance, looking out across large expanses of water on cold grey days with little chance of anything more than a distant blob amongst wind rippled water. I find digiscoping much harder on grey days when grey overcast skies seem to increase the darkness and lessen the sharpness on most images, even on close subjects. I hoped that this might change when a Slavonian Grebe was found at Wilstone Reservoir, and continued to show exceptionally well for days to follow. 
A few days passed and the Grebe remained and continually showed well by all accounts, the day I chose to go looked quite promising weather-wise, cloudy but with outbreaks of sunshine. I left home with an optimism that I might return later in the day with some fairly decent photos and this time a much closer subject than sightings and attempts before.

I was only a short distance from Willstone, probably 10 miles or so and the clouds were clearing nicely, it was looking promising. I turned down a small country lane and steadily continued my journey towards Willstone, suddenly a Renault Scenic came speeding round the corner.......the inevitable happened!!!

After being shunted down the road by the Scenic both cars came to a halt, I looked to the back seat where all my optics were placed and thankfully they all looked intact. It would be all too easy at this point to fly off the handle and although I felt like doing so I recoiled, then got out of my car to approach the opposite driver to check whether everybody was safe and well. Thankfully everybody was okay.

I then had one of those really weird surreal moments. We were stood between both vehicles exchanging details when I turned to look at the Renault's number plate and noticed a dog sat in the drivers seat, feet on the wheel and looking out through the front windscreen. It was certainly a double-take moment and I began to wonder who had really been driving the car.

Details exchanged she speed off down the lane leaving me to grieve at the side of the road with my car. I was pi**ed off to say the least and left contemplating my next move. I wasn't that far away from Wilstone Reservoir and stuck in the middle of nowhere, do I carry on for the Grebe or turn back?

The car started and no leaks were visible and after making sure all four tyres were still inflated, the indicators all worked and that no body, wing or bumper parts were going to obstruct the tyres and car I decided to carry on.

I arrived at Willstone just as the sun disappeared behind a huge cloud formation and feeling rather deflated I grabbed my kit and headed up on to the reservoir to search for the Grebe. I reached the top of the steps to the reservoir and was met with a cool breeze that whisked across the surface, rippling the crests of water towards the reservoir edges. In the distance the jetty held five or six bodies huddled together all peering down towards the water, after a look through my bins I headed off in their direction.



I arrived near the jetty to find the Slavonian Grebe on the water and almost beneath my feet, it was so close that you could see it's webbed feet paddling under the surface. The sun was now beginning to shine through the broken clouds, unfortunately for me the Slav was just too close to even attempt a photo, I tried but I couldn't get the whole bird in view.


The Slav finally moved away from the edge of the reservoir bank and began to dive for food making it incredibly tricky trying to predict exactly where it would surface, every five or six attempts it stopped to preen giving me a few seconds to capture a few photos before it resumed diving. Digiscoping free hand with no adaptor is always a challenge with a moving subject, and this Grebe was making it difficult. Every time I had it in the frame it dived just as I took the photo, the focus just didn't have time to lock on before it disappeared beneath the water. 

It continued to dive alongside the jetty area for over an hour giving some fantastic views as it dived just in front of me, as time wore on it stopped to preen more often giving me the chance to attempt a few more photos. Then as the sun slowly started to descend it slowly moved further away from the bank and out towards the middle of the reservoir. I watched it for a while then made my way back to the car park to set off for home.


Sadly the car was written-off, I then had to go through over 4 months of tedious telephone calls with my insurance company. Generally it was a pretty sh*tty experience, especially when the accident wasn't even my fault.

On the positive side I did manage to get a few better photos than I had before of Slavonian Grebe.

So if I had any advice that I could pass on to you after this experience it would be.....

1) Don't use the AA for car insurance
2) Definitely don't use the AA for car insurance - Sorry, I've added that twice as I feel that strongly about it.
3) Drive carefully around country lanes and be mindful of other speeding drivers heading your way!

Here endith the advice

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