Musings on an osprey

4 May

One of mine? I wish!

In photography as in life, the two greatest obstacles to excellence are cowardice and indolence. Given a minimal level of technical competence  – focusing precision, and the ability to control light through the exposure variables of aperture, shutter speed and ISO – it is invariably one or other of these more existential afflictions that sees us settling time and again for mediocrity.

Thus spake steel city scribe.

The bird held its position in full sunlight, fifteen slanting metres above the bridge carrying the A9 over Cromarty Firth at the narrowest point, three miles from its inland extremity at Dingwall. Raptors don’t come any bigger in Britain, 1 and I could rule out buzzard or red kite. (Though no birder, I’ve seen enough of both to exclude them.) Given the location, size and talons-out hover, it had to be sea (aka white tailed) eagle or osprey. The latter seemed more likely, though my past sightings – sea eagle in the sky over Harris; osprey nesting on Bassenthwaite’s south shore – have been few and from a distance.

The A9 is fast but single carriageway. The national speed limit for such roads applied, and I was already irking the lengthening line of traffic to my rear with my 50 mph dawdling when the law permits 60.

Coming to a screeching halt – or even a gradual deceleration – was out of the question. I recall no double yellow lines but common sense, and the hurtling cars behind, made an eloquent case for driving on.

With no small reluctance.

As if posing for the young man snapping away at the parapet – there by design, or sheer fluke? – with a lens long but not a patch on my L series 100:400mm plus one-point-four extender, the raptor could not have been better positioned had it been placed there under strict orders not to move. The sun’s strength and high angle lit it up without posing any backlighting problem, and for the few seconds I could safely devote my gaze it held that fearless pose, every inch the apex predator. From where the man with the cam stood, I’d have filled my full frame R6 using half the focal length at my disposal.

But I wasn’t where the man with the cam stood, was I?

Responsible driving is one thing, criminal indolence another. Reaching the north-west end of the bridge I spied a layby on the far lane, followed in short order by a roundabout. I could have used the latter to U-turn in safety to the former. Why didn’t I? To be sure, we – Jackie being every bit as thrilled – would have to leave dogs in van and leg a quarter mile of ear-splitting traffic to the southeast end, by which time the bird might well have flown. The only certainty was that by driving on as I did – aren’t our greatest regrets the things we let slip through our fingers? – I passed on a splendid opportunity.

This was the day before yesterday, hours before photographing dolphins at Chanonry Point. The following day I learned from a Cromarty shopkeeper that two ospreys had indeed been sighted that day, in that part of the firth.

* * *

  1. Actually, two raptors exceed the osprey in size: the golden eagle and still larger sea or white-tailed eagle. My bad.

6 Replies to “Musings on an osprey

  1. To see an Osprey – wonderful! Even if there is no photo. Or rather no photo of yours. A month back, maybe more, after a storm, I was walking in the mountains. Suddenly there was a huge bird above me, massive wings outstretched. I thought it might be an Osprey but it glided closer and I saw it was a Golden Eagle. I whipped out my iphone and did my feeble best then gave up. No way was I going to capture this beauty. When I got home all I had was a vague blurry mark which I blew up, and you could just about see it was some kind of massive bird – could have been anything though. No one was impressed. But who cares. I had a moment of pure joy seeing this magnificnet creature glide over me in all its glory and majesty – eat your heart out Charles III mate!

    • No one was impressed. But who cares. I had a moment of pure joy

      Ain’t that just the way to conduct ourselves, Anne?

  2. Nature photography in particular helps train one to see. The unfortunate side effect (in addition to the problems you mentioned of focus, iso, and so forth) is that a photographer is also aware of what is being missed because of one reason or another (traffic, trees, or what have you).
    I happen to be lucky in terms of osprey, since one or two stop at a nearby pond for a few weeks each spring. Some years an osprey will cooperate and fly over me; other years, the osprey will spot me hundreds of yards away and vanish.

    • My dream Chet is an osprey plunging into a lake in bright sunlight, taking to the air again a moment later with fish in talons as I capture with pin sharpness bird, prey and diamond droplets of spray at 1/4000 of a second.

      I’d sell my soul for such a shot.

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