Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s contributors and friends take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Mat Bingham.
In February I really needed a break from work so I headed for the Scottish Highlands. I was out searching for mountain hares, the air was cold, painful to breathe, and yet exhilarating, that thrill you get when you know you are somewhere truly wild. Most of the day was spent on foot trying to reach the snowline in high winds. The hares were hunkered down in scrapes which they had dug out in the snow on the lee slope. They were beautiful in their white winter coats with their intense dilated stare. They almost floated across the snow whilst I was bogged down with all the weight of the camera gear. The day was over all too soon and I had to head back home.
One project I had in mind for this year was to take some high resolution photographs of badgers at a sett located within the perimeter fence of the water treatment works where I had been working. I set up a trail camera to get a feel for their behaviour and tempted them into frame using peanut butter. They love peanut butter, I haven’t found any wild animal yet that cannot be tempted with the brown gooey stuff. I would put some peanut butter on a small log in front of the camera. The badgers were not the only visitors, the local foxes and muntjac deer would often take advantage of the free food. One problem I had was that the badgers had a tendency to wander off with the peanut butter and the log. I solved this issue by pegging the log to the ground. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to set up a high resolution camera until fairly late in the year and so I missed my chance to get the photographs I wanted.
In May we were looking for a new home, we found a cottage on the internet that looked promising and went out for a drive one evening to have a look at the location. The cottage was surrounded by fields and in among the fresh green shoots of wheat there were brown hares feeding. We were the first and last people to look at the house, we rented it straight away.
A few weeks after moving in I spent a warm sunny evening with the hares but was distracted by a barn owl swooping past looking for field voles. The rest of the summer was spent on spare evenings either photographing the hares or the barn owls near my home. I stumbled on the barn owl roost one evening when out for a walk, they had taken up residence in an old spilt and decaying sycamore tree. Not being a fan of Saturday night TV we elected to spend one evening sat in the field next to our house, the hay was gently swaying in the breeze, the sun was warm on our backs and the male barn owl was hunting all around us, this is my fondest memory of the summer.
I visited my first Caught by the River festival in Teifi this year, the weather was good, I cannot think of a nicer way to spend an evening than sitting by the side of a river in Wales listening to music and having a cider or two.
And so to the highlight of my year, in October we went on holiday to Iceland. It’s an awe inspiring country that feels so primal, with the steam escaping from fissures in the rock and with its newly formed lava fields. Early on in the holiday we managed to take a whale watching trip from Húsavík. We had been told it wasn’t the best time of the year for whale watching but we decided to try our luck anyway. We spent four hours watching two humpback whales feeding. At times they came so close to the boat you could almost touch them.
Later in the week we drove along a mountain pass in our hired four wheel drive from the north of the island to the south. As it turned out we arrived at the southern coast at dusk and had the last rays of the sun to watch a whooper swan family bobbing around on the ocean with the mountainous coastline as a backdrop. I have photographed whooper swans in the UK in the winter but had never seen them on their breeding grounds in Iceland.
The next day we headed for the snow cap. It was quite amazing looking up at the skyline and not being able to tell where the snow ended and the clouds began. We arrived at a glacial lake where there were icebergs that had broken off the glacier toe and were floating out to sea through a narrow channel. The scene was almost too much to take in, storm clouds could be seen in the distance but the late evening light made the ice sparkle. It brought tears to my eyes to see how beautiful the ice sculptures were in the water.
Looking forward to next year I would like to take the photographs of the badgers that I tried and failed to get this year. I am also working on a project with Natural England to install a camera in a dipper nest to get footage of the chicks and their parents. If successful we may even be able to upload some of the footage on Caught by the River.