Northumberland, Bird Club

Birds, ducks and swans were seen by Gazette photographer Jane Coltman on a pond between Seahouses and Bamburgh,
Birds, ducks and swans were seen by Gazette photographer Jane Coltman on a pond between Seahouses and Bamburgh,

Wildlife photographer Ron McCombe was our speaker at the North Northumberland Bird Club’s indoor meeting.

He invited us to take an amazing Walk On The Wildside, his compilation of images ranging from our area to locations throughout Europe. He was voted Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year 2010 and his outstanding photographs reflect his interest in all the birds he sees.

When he moved to the Scottish Borders, he set up a small shed as a hide at the bottom of his garden, which has grown into a 12ft x 18ft hide for four people, with electricity, heating and internet. From there he has taken stunning photographs of such species as lesser redpoll, siskin, brambling, goldfinch, nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker.

Whilst visiting Aviemore, Ron spent hours in July being eaten alive by midges to obtain photos of the charismatic pine martens, which visit his lures for only five minutes before disappearing for three hours.

He also obtained amazing close-ups of capercaillie by arriving at the chosen site at 4.30am, having driven four hours through the night. In fact, one male capercaillie got so close and threatening he had to throw his cap away to distract the bird.

On Mull he spent much time in January videoing otters, watching many aspects of their lives. When a mother wants her youngster to sleep, she lies on it to quieten it. Also otters roll around on the kelp to put air into their fur to improve buoyancy. One otter had caught a ling fish over a metre long and having dragged it by the snout out of the water, it spent three hours eating it.

Ron has travelled widely in Europe. On trips to the wilds of Northern Sweden, with temperatures in winter of –25C, he sits in a hide, warmed by a wood-burning stove, to photograph golden eagles, which fly in to feed on a carcass frozen in the snow.

A Siberian jay, attracted by mince placed on the end of sticks, became so bold it landed on Ron’s head, then on his camera. A red fox came out of the wood for the eagle’s food. When there’s an eagle about his tail goes up as a warning.

We also enjoyed Ron’s beautiful views of the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis.

On a visit to Northern Norway he photographed king eider, Steller’s eider and long-tailed ducks from a floating hide in the harbour, a metre away from the birds, with the colours of houses being reflected in the crystal clear 30ft to 40ft deep water.

In Edinburgh there have been many sightings of waxwings, particularly in supermarket car parks. Ron recorded their acrobatics feeding on berries. They keep returning to the same bushes for about three weeks until all the berries are gone and then will move on.

His photographs reflect considerable knowledge of where to go and where to wait to obtain the photographs he wants, and he is prepared to spend many hours in order to get the right shot.

He also uses different techniques to attract birds and animals, such as sprinkling nyjer seed in teasels so that goldfinches will squabble over them, or putting out jam sandwiches for the pine martens.

Members were left in no doubt that they had witnessed an amazing sequence of photographs, a reflection of Ron’s outstanding skill and infinite patience.

At the next meeting we welcome Dr Viola Ross-Smith, of the British Trust for Ornithology, who will talk about the latest research on Gulls when she visits the Pavilion at Bamburgh, at 7.30pm, on May 12.