To Stacey Belbin, sea fishing and tourist trips on Lady Grace are her life. Here she gets hooked on bird watching.
Although Lady Grace was launched quite late in the season, someone must have been looking over me. The warm weather lasted until well into October and I kept the sea trips going.
But as the colder weather drew in, I realised I would soon be offering bird watching trips – and I realised that I didn’t know anything about birds.
Up until now I hadn’t really taken much notice of what flew above and waded in the mud around me.
I asked my husband for a camera for my Christmas – I intended to photograph the birds I saw during the day and then use our reference books to learn about them at home.
But I had no idea how much fun it was going to be, how exciting it is, and how I was going to get hooked.
Not only did I enjoy trying for a good shot which highlighted all a bird’s distinguishing features but I then spent happy hours browsing the books, narrowing it down and finally arriving at an identification.
I have become fascinated by birds, their plumage and behaviours – I particularly enjoy learning how some bird’s malt feathers change colour and they gain or loose certain features depending on the season.
It’s amazing – I have been completely oblivious to the birds around me, its as though I have walked round with my eyes shut for the past 24 years.
As a beginner I may not be spotting anything exciting compared to more experienced twitchers, but just to recognise the common everyday birds is a personal accomplishment for me. I am proud of myself when and I’m keen to learn more and help others learn too.
At Mersea we have loads of the little mottled brown and black birds darting about and nesting on the hundreds of derelict boats. People, locals included, often ask about them.
They are Turnstones – white under parts and little orange legs. They spend most of their time creeping and fluttering over and around the crabbing pontoon, picking out food from under stones and gaps in the pontoon and are interesting little characters to watch.
They have such cheeky nature about them but they also make a terrible mess on your boat when you turn your back – so you do have to watch out for those cheeky devils.
Turnstones are abundant round here yet few know much about them. They are quite closely related to the Sandpiper and are commonly mistaken for them.
Fossils have even been found in Kansas dating back around 3-4 million years similar to the Sandpiper but with traits of Turnstones which leads scientists to believe these fossils are an ancestral representation of this family.
When you start learning about the birds, you don’t realise just how much natural history you will learn along the way.
My Christmas camera was a Fuji film 10x optical zoom camera but I am now at that stage where I want to develop my photography to the next level.
Photographing birds from a boat means dealing with a moving platform, a navigating the boat and getting close enough without scaring off the subject. I have become skilled enough to need a better zoom and decided to invest in an SLR camera.
Initially I didn’t want to be constantly changing lenses, especially while on the boat, but I now realise that to get the best photos I need a decent camera.
I was recommended a Canon camera with 75-300 and 500mm lenses which I recently got second hand on Ebay. I can’t wait to get out on the water and learn how to use it – watch out for some good shots!