I spent much of my Easter holidays attempting to work, and being relatively successful, but feeling a bit guilty if I was ever not, at least, trying to work. But with the sun shining, I eventually cracked, and decided I needed to actually schuedule myself some free time, go out somewhere and do some photography! After umming and erring over locations, and almost not bothering at all, I decided to set my alarm for 4:40am, and drive to Cleethorpes. I did a landscape shoot on Cleethorpes beach a couple of years ago, where I was surprised at how beautiful this place was, at dawn before the hoards of tourists and beach goers arrived.
On arrival the tide was pretty far out, so a lot of the mud flats were exposed. The light was hazy due to an influx of pollution and Saharan sand from the continent, I could tell then there wasn’t going to be much of a sunrise or any particularly golden light. But at least the lack of harsh directional sunlight meant the more subtle reflective quality of the rippling mudflats could shine through. I photographed the wooden groynes a lot last time, so with the low tide I wondered out across the mud to get to the bouys to use for some foreground interest, as well as castes left by lugworms.
Sea water stood in pools, and some was still draining down the beach, channeling into streams back towards the North Sea/Humber Estury (they say Cleethorpes is about the dividing line where this muddy estuary meets the sea, so it depends on the tide as to where the waters coming from). While taking these shots of this tidal stream with its three little tributaries I realised that the sun was beginning to show its face. Filtered by the mixture of African dessert sand and European human pollution, it turned a bright red, making for a subtle but unusual sunrise.
I had already seen gulls, a grey heron and a few waders fly past me, but with the tide coming in faster now, waders were beginning to be pushed further up the beach in my direction. I saw lots of waders here when I came in 2012, but back then I had no telephoto zoom to take advantage of them with! So I gave up on landscapes for the day, stuck on my Nikkor 70-300VR, and started trying to see what I could spot. I didn’t expect as many waders as I saw, most were probably just stopping off on their journeys north for spring, medium sized knots (first and second picture down) scurried along in large groups, and set off in flight when I attempted to get close to them- it was so muddy I think I might’ve gotten my body stuck if I tried crawling at this point! Among the groups of knots I spotted the odd tiny sanderling and larger more leggy waders flying along side them (second shot- the little sanderlings at the bottom left). I spotted more of the leggy waders further up the beach, a group of bar-tailed godwits all, like the knot, still sporting their winter plumage (sunlit bird in second shot, third, fourth and fifth shots).
Alas I didn’t get that close to the knot or godwits, and they soon flew round me and headed to the other wide of the beach.
When I was here in winter I remembered there being lots of turnstones and sanderlings high up on the beach near a getty next to the pier, and they didn’t seem to be very shy at all back then, unlike the knot and godwits. Looking behind me I focused my lens on said getty, and bingo, I could see the little mottled brown blobs of turnstones.
At first I wasn’t too successful with getting close to the turnstones, but as I watched them I started to see patterns in their behaviour. I realised they kept sprinting up right to the top of the beach to feed on rubbish scraps in the sand, only flying back down the beach to the bottom of the getty when people walked past. I steadily made my way up the getty and sat on the opposite side to where they were predictably flocking. I waited till gradually the first bravest individuals began to tentatively walk up the beach.
It didn’t take long for them to become pretty comfortable with my presence, allowing me to get closer even still! It was only when a handsome little grey bird popped into view on my view finder that I realised there was now sanderlings feeding amongst the hoard of turnstones as well, not to mention the odd starling and pigeon! I began to lay down and army crawl my way closer to the birds, feeling like a bit of a muppet in the process with various people walking by and builders up on the pier probably wondering what I was doing. But there was a chap with a metal detector on the beach, so at least I wasn’t the nerdiest person there…
Gradually the traffic of wader-disturbing, sometimes apologetic, joggers and dog walkers increased as the morning wore on to a more reasonable hour, and the birds were beginning to spread out more along the beach. I couldn’t help but think the waders looked a little unnatural among scraps of human debris and what looked like B&Q play sand, so I started to try shooting them further down the beach where it looked more natural.
I soon realised just how high the tide was beginning to get, so I laid down facing the sea, still army crawling to get close, but also letting the sea do half the work by chasing them towards me! As you can probably tell I took quite a lot of shots on this shoot, thankfully the Nikon D7100’s double card slot came in handy and allowed me to keep going when I filled my primary memory card up. My second in command SD card is only a meager class 4 compared to my nifty class 10 primary, so it couldn’t cope with shooting huge RAW files in burst mode quite as well, and slowed down my attempts at catching the action. With this and my slightly increasing hunger and painful need to pee, I decided to call it a day and head back to the car soon after.
Since my feet were already wet, I took off my sandy boots and socks and went for a paddle. I definitely felt a lot better getting out and having a bit of light photo-therapy to reconnect with nature, and just get my dissertation and coursework out of my head for a while. No matter how busy, chaotic and stressful life can get, when I’m looking through that viewfinder everything else in the world disappears, all that exists is me and whatever’s on the other side of my camera. Nature photography is always a great way to get some perspective, and sometimes I think I need to remember that I’m allowed to have time off from uni every now and then!