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Frozen blue dawn: heron fishing as the 05:15hrs train passes by

The coldest nights for weeks

I really love going to visit Tom Robinson at Wildlife Photography Hides, Bourne, Lincolnshire.  I always arrange to stay with his Auntie Kate just 10 minutes or so up the road and it's like going to stay with family.  I'm always made to feel so welcome!  I've had some fantastic photographic and nature experiences through visiting Tom in Bourne.  He's a really kind, enthusiastic and knowledgeable person. I have great respect for his knowledge and ethics.  Tom has a different approach to similar photography hide businesses.  He has built 3 new, different and very specific hides that have multiple purposes.  Last year I spent a couple of days in the Dyke Hide.  I enjoyed the comfy chairs, the kettle, milk and tea bags, the tripod head bases and any number of clever touches that meant that the hours passed in relative comfort.  

This time I wanted to spend a couple of nights in the Pond Hide in the hope of seeing the Grey Heron and Little Egret that frequent the pond. Being able to see them throughout the night as they continued fishing was a real draw for me... and of course, there was also the slim chance that a wild otter might turn up.

The Pond Hide is still in the process of development but even in these early stages it's still significantly more luxurious than many hides I've been in!  Apart from the kettle, tea and coffee there's a fire to take the worst of the cold off and even a bed to snooze on as long as you've got somebody else with you to keep watch.  There's absolutely no point in spending a night in a hide waiting to photograph something... and then sleeping through it!

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I was very lucky to have the delightful company of David W on the first night.  We chatted (very quietly) and made numerous cups of tea and managed to keep warm with the help of the little fire in the corner.  Was it cold? To be honest, yes!  And it was snowing outside at various points!  As the sun rose, we could see that the ground was covered in snow and the reeds around the pond were coated with frost.

The local Heron, who I named Stanley, was a great source of amusement.  Watching his neck gymnastics was very funny.  Stanley could elongate his neck and stretch up to an impressive height or scrunch it up and huddle down thereby reducing his overall height by at least half!

David was snoozing when the otter turned up!  I'd been wondering whether I'd manage to spot an otter at all in the challenging conditions but just as s/he appeared, the snow stopped and I saw an unmistakeable silvery flash disappear into the water right in front of me.  Tom has fixed a small focussing light onto the pond but this was enough to make all the difference and the cameras locked focus onto the otter and we were transfixed!  A real live otter, right in front of us, fishing in the pond... how amazing was that?!?!  I don't think either of us could believe our eyes as s/he repeatedly dived into the pond to fish.  It wasn't easy to track the otter in the darkness.  The pond was mirror calm.  Not that I'm ungrateful for the opportunity that I had but... I really wish that it had snowed or rained so that the pictures were even more magical but... oh my!  An otter.  A real, live, wild otter... right in front of my eyes! S/he stayed for 13minutes before slipping away silently into the night. 

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As the light levels increased heralding the beginnings of sunrise, Stanley the heron returned.  Bless him (or her!) I had great fun playing with the available light and turned off the flash lights.  What did the otter think of the flash or the heron?  I would say that they completely ignored it.  Not a feather or strand of fur was turned.  Not so much as a blink. Both creatures simply got on with their hunting.  I suppose it was no different from the lighning flashes in an electrical storm.

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The second night in the Pond Hide was even colder!  This time I was joined by Tom and was very grateful for his companiy and tea making skills!  It was freezing.  Literally.  We wondered whether the otter would visit for a second night in a row... and also wondered whether he'd come if the pond was frozen over.  It felt like a very long night.  Stanley didn't come until the light was recording blue on the back of the cameras and the otter didn't visit at all.  It was -3c.  It was such a long cold night and such a long wait that I was really pleased when Stanley turned up!  He put on quite a show!  Do you remember Bambi on ice from the Disney movie?  So that's what Stanley looked like!  How do herons walk on ice?  The answer?  Very, very cautiously!  It was funny.  Was I meant to laugh?  Dunno, but I did.  Out loud.  The weird thing was that Stanley seemed to find it easier to stand on the ice on one leg and he preferred to tuck the other leg up into his nether regions somewhere. Having two legs down at the same time was clearly challenging as his feet tended to slide off into different directions!  It was funny watching him watching the fish under the ice but he was clever enough not to try to spear the fish through the ice.  It must have been very frustrating to watch your dinner swimming about but not be able to catch them.  So near and yet so far.

I think my favourite photo came at about 05:15hrs when I framed the image to include Stanley the heron, a frost encrusted rock and the lights of a passing train !  Magical.

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Stanley and the Little Egret do not get on well!  I suppose each wants to call the pond their own. They constantly chase each other off the pond. As the light levels came up with the approaching sunrise, the Little Egret managed to chase Stanley away and come down to land on the frozen pond.  I wish I'd caught the landing on camera!  Once again the bird looked completely puzzled by the icy barrier between him and the fish under his feet.  He moved around very, very cautiously on his bright yellow feet.

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Tom, thank you so much for the opportunity!  Ok, so I don't think 2 nights in freezing conditions did my cough much good but would I do it again?  Yes, of course.... when are you free?