The water rail is not necessarily an uncommon bird in certain parts of the UK. Despite this, not so many people will have seen one or taken the time to work out what it was even if they had seen one. Normally, it is a very reclusive bird being heard more often than being seen. It frequents reed beds and tall grasses around the edge of water, only occasionally making a brief appearance to feed in shallow water or scurry between different locations.
I enjoy 'projects' and 'challenges' and so when I heard that a couple of water rail had been heard at the WWT Caerlaverock nature reserve earlier this year I decided to see if I could spot this elusive bird and photograph it.
Like most wildlife photography it came down to observation, perseverance and planning - or, in other words, about 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration.
I did what I tell every aspiring wildlife photographer to do. Put the camera down, look and learn. I spent the best part of my first day on the reserve trying to work out where it was hiding and if there was any pattern to when and where it emerged. Typically, it was frequently heard and seldom seen. A small area of water near a reed bed seemed to draw it out occasionally and late morning and late afternoon provided the most frequent sightings and the best light.
The next challenge was working out where to position myself. I wanted to be down low to get shots along the water and I also had limited options in order to avoid unwanted reflections.
On day two I turned up with a camping mat, bean bag and a 600mm lens. Several hours later and with a very sore back and neck I managed to get a few 'okay' shots. A further shift of position and day three started to produce some better images. It took the best part of a week to get the photographs that I wanted. It was hard going but as there aren't that many good images of water rail about it was worth the effort.
I am often asked if I get my images when out for a walk. The honest answer is - not often. Most wildlife photographs belie the amount of effort involved in getting them. The best images involve hard work and a lot of planning. But, I also say to people that although I am always pleased when I get a good photograph the real delight is having witnessed the moment.