Early morning in the saltmarsh

Black-winged stilt, Ile de Re.
Black-winged stilt, Ile de Re.

Jane and I have different ideas about what a holiday should be.  For me its largely about seeing new landscapes and   new birds, while she likes …… well ……. to relax. We seem to have come to an understanding, though, and as long as it also involves us both enjoying cups of coffee in atmospheric street cafe’s we can live with our differences.

Last month we went to western  France. Travelling almost entirely by train we spent one to three days in five different locations, from La Rochelle to the north as far as  St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I had planned each stop fairly carefully  to give me the chance of doing some bird photography in some, while in others we could both enjoy some delightful French countryside, villages and cities. The Ile de Re is a rather lovely island near La Rochelle which is joined to the mainland by a bridge. It’s almost completely flat, and crisscrossed by a maze of cycle tracks which should put most local authorities in  Britain to shame.

By a stroke of good fortune I had booked some accommodation towards the western end of the island close to the best section, bird-wise,  of salt-marsh.  So it was a doddle to get up at dawn and potter off to the marshes on the bike for some early morning birding – even more so as France is two hours ahead of GMT and the sun didn’t rise until about 7 am. I do find the freshness of early morning particularly stimulating.  Wildlife is more active and seems to be more approachable and dawn can bring a feeling of mist and mellow fruitfulness to the landscape at any time of the year.

Perhaps the star bird of the marshes was the black-winged stilt. One of those species that even a non-birder could identify, it is a neat black and white wader with extraordinarily long coral-red legs. There was no shortage of them on the island and they were, frankly, quite easy to photograph. After years of using only the central focus point and the “focus and recompose” method I’ve recently discovered the outer focus points of my Canon 7d.  It’s certainly not rocket science to use them and it got me wondering …… what might all those other little buttons do? So as well as  experimenting with that in the field I’ve also been trying out with different cropping ratios and I think this upright version works quite well.

So after a couple of hours of solitude in the marshes I would tootle back to the chambre d’hote just in time for a delicious breakfast prepared for us by the lady of the house. Jane would probably be up by then and tell me about the wonderful night’s sleep she had had, and I could enthuse about the birds I had seen and photographed.  Then we would spend most of the rest of the day together.

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