Tuesday, 10 February 2015

BIRDS OF THE SNOWY NORTH

CLEETHORPES played host to the “premiere” of an illustrated talk - on “birds of the snow” - by one of Britain’s top birders.

At a RSPB meeting at Corpus Christi community centre, Graham Catley, a consultant ornithologist and wildlife photographer, recounted his winter travels - some of them spiced with more than a hint of danger - in remote parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Canada.

He brought back with him not just special memories but superb photographs of such species as nutcracker, pine grosbeak, Arctic redpoll, Siberian tit and black-capped chickadee and his personal favourite, the snowy owl.

Sometimes temperatures were as low as minus 28 degrees, and on one occasion, after waiting in snow too long for one particular rarity, he was disconcerted to find himself totally numb from the knees down.

“I think I overdid it by at least an hour on that occasion,” he said wryly. “But you don’t get good bird photographs unless you’re prepared to suffer!

“It brought it home to me that British winterwear  is not  adequate in those sorts of conditions - you need specialist gear for Arctic-type weather.”

When he found the nearest café, Graham made ordering food and drink the second priority - the first was to pull off boots and socks and de-freeze in front of a radiator.

On one excursion, he and his two companions decided to take a road trip to a top birding habitat some 600 miles north of Helsinki.

At times, they drove as far as 65 miles without seeing another car - just reindeer!


Graham Catley - superb photographs


 “Even with car heater on, our breath froze on the inside of the windscreen,”he recalled.

But it was all worth for his stunning portfolio of photographs which sometimes had his Cleethorpes audience literally gasping with delight.

Modestly, Graham attributed the shots not to his own skill and patience but to the purity of the northern light.

Unfortunately, he missed out on seeing a hazel hen (though he saw a dead specimen on one road), but at various locations, he caught up with such beauties as northern shrike, Siberian jay, pygmy owl, azure tit and the increasingly rare Steller’s eider whose numbers have mysteriously plummeted by 85 per cent over the past 35 years.

Graham said he was endless impressed by how Nordic log cabins remained warm thanks to their triple-glazing and reindeer-skin covered seats and to being erected on stilts.

“Even with a small electric convector heater, a temperature of 20 deg was maintained,”he said. “In this country, we’ve got a lot to learn about insulation from the Scandinavians.”

During question time, a member suggested that some of Graham’s photographs would make excellent Christmas cards - a comment endorsed by RSPB Grimsby branch branch group leader, Terry Whalin, who insisted: “I am sure there would be a market.”

Graham’s photographs  can be viewed on his blog: http://pewit.blogspot.co.uk/

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