ARCHIVE: LEVELS 58 – THE ROAD SOUTH ACROSS TEALHAM MOOR


 

Jack’s Drove, arrowing southwards across Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 30 Oct 2014. Water-filled ditches (rhynes) covered in green waterweed accompany the drove on its journey south.

My heartland, where I like to be  And this was a dark morning, the sun up but really not making itself felt; and occasional spots of drizzle falling through an unseasonally soft mildness.  Nothing but the sounds of the breeze and the birds – wagtails coming to look at me, a meadow pipit briefly by, lapwings overhead, mallards in a ditch – and always the great, arch-winged herons, splitting the morning with their rough and far carrying barks.

But there was excitement too, a missed opportunity perhaps.  I was in the Magic Carpark,  leaning against the car, sucking down hot, sweet coffee, when there came a noise that really ought to have immediately meant more to an ex-birder.  A rushing and thumping, something like an old steam train off in the distance.  I moved away from the car, turned questioningly and there, pounding up the rhyne for all they were worth, were a family of five swans, running on the water, intent on getting up into the air and very nearly there – wingspans upwards of 7 feet and each hurtling body weighing at least 20 pounds – and all headed straight at me!

I don’t know who was most surprised.  I remember standing there, clutching my coffee, “Oh ************ ….!!!!”.   And, as I’d come out from behind the car, they’d seen me too and then they were suddenly up above the water and desperately veering and swerving off to either side.  It was like standing in a shooting gallery – like the scene in Ghostbusters 2 where Winston Zeddemore has the spectral locomotive go right through him on the old disused underground railway. 

And one moment they were there, the next they were streaming past either side of me at shoulder height – and the next they were gone.  Leaving me, frozen to the spot, with my coffee spilled.

Oh if I’d only had the camera around my neck!  But what if I had?  What would there have been time for?  Lifting and switching it on in one often used motion, and frantically thumbing the (absolutely wonderfully useful) AF-ON button.  I always leave the camera with the zoom back at 70mm and Matrix metering set, so that would have been just the job but, really, three seconds of frantically blasting away, if that – to produce at best … “artistically blurred creations” …  in the heat of the moment, the wide angle zoom, as used in the landscape above, would have been a better bet.

I love wild things and I loved that encounter.  It was far better to be full on in the middle of it than to try and photograph it.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D700 with 12-24 Sigma lens at 12mm; 1600 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.



ARCHIVE: LEVELS 39 – SWANS OVER TEALHAM

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Mute Swans about to land on flooded Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 7 Feb 2014.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Much against good sense, I ventured down onto the Levels recently, to my habitual haunts on Tealham and Tadham Moors.  Not daring to take my usual cross-country route because of the many places where even small amounts of flooding might cut it, I drove down the main A38 road south from Bristol to Highbridge, and then went eastwards into the flatlands along another, relatively large road.  All was well on these main roads, but as soon as I got onto the smaller lanes, problems with water appeared.

Tealham and Tadham were mostly submerged, with just just the roads sticking up above the waters and little traffic about, but the floods in this more northerly part of the Levels are nothing like those further south, south of the Polden Hills, where whole villages are being overwhelmed, main roads have been cut for weeks, cutting edge pumping technology has been brought in from Holland, and the Army has been called in to help the local people.

This image is starting to look rather unphotographic, more like a painting maybe, and I always feel good when this happens.  Henrietta Richer and Dave Battarbee have both made suggestions about this image, which I’ve incorporated.  

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 200 ISO.

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ARCHIVE 589 – SWAN, PREENING

 

 


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Mute Swan reaching back behind its wing to get at an itch or readjust its feathers.  

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 300mm (equiv); 200 ISO; spot metering; Lightroom; Herriots Bridge, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 3 Apr 2017.

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ARCHIVE 549 – MUTE SWAN (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swan Cygnus olor, the common, resident and often tame swan in the UK.  The large black knob on the forehead shows this to be a male.

Composition: close in with a long telephoto, which often works for me.  The bird’s head and long neck form the left edge of the frame, the bird is looking down into the frame, and his body is only faintly seen; all else is water with a very faint surface texture.  Use of black and white simplifies things still further.

And perhaps there’s a feeling here that he’s too large for the frame, that he’s bursting out of the frame.  Or, then again, perhaps he’s coming in closer, to have a better look at us.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 1600 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Cool Tones 2 preset and adding a light tone; 16 Feb 2018; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset.

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ARCHIVE 527 – SWANS, GRAZING (MONO)

 

 


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Swans grazing on pastureland; Westhay Moor, south of Wedmore; 2 April 2015.

Some see swans purely as waterbirds, and on or beside water is where they’re usually encountered, reaching down into the water’s depths with their long necks to feed on aquatic vegetation.  But they are often seen out on the fields of the Somerset Levels, quite at home grazing on short grass.

These are Mute Swans, the UK’s common and often tame, resident bird.  But in the winter they may be joined here by a few Bewick’s and Whooper Swans that have come south to avoid the Arctic’s bitter freeze.

And the pylon?  Well, 15 miles or so west of here, and in stark contrast to the Levels’ rural reaches, there is the Hinkley Point atomic power station, which sends lines of such gaunt metal towers snaking out across the surrounding countryside.  The two reactors there are ageing now, but a third is proposed and construction is underway.

And  – hot question! – am I in favour of nuclear power and especially, in this instance, so close to my favourite haunts?  Well, the jury’s out on nuclear, I guess, my only certainty being that we need to get power from somewhere – news stories talk of our electricity supplies being only just sufficient to cover winter demands.  

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window – highly recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 2,000 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Dramatic preset.

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ARCHIVE 502 – SWAN, PREENING (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swan at Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, not far south of Bristol; 6 Apr 2015.

The bird is preening, busily rearranging its feathers in a flurry of activity that is sending concentric ripples out across the surrounding water.

Click onto to the image to see a larger version in a separate window – highly recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 200 ISO; -0.3EV; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Low Key 2 preset.

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ARCHIVE 498 – THE VIEW WEST AT SUNRISE

 

 


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Looking west along the North Drain from the Jack’s Drove bridge on Tealham Moor, at sunrise; 22 Nov 2013.

I’d raced to Tealham Moor to catch the sunrise, and just before the scene was blasted by the light of the rapidly rising sun (see this image), there was this beautiful soft light, with clouds that were faintly tinged pink, off to the west. 

A group of three Mute Swans are on the water at lower left, and I’m pleased because this whole scene is just as I remember it. 

Click onto the “early morning” tag (below) to see more images from the early hours of the day.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D800 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

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ARCHIVE 474 – MISTY MORNING, ALLERTON MOOR (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swans in the water-filled ditch – the rhyne (rhymes with seen) – that runs along beside the mostly single track road across Allerton Moor, on the Somerset Levels.

A misty morning.  The rhyne, which does duty as the field’s fence in this wet part of the world, runs on off into the distance before starting to bear off to the left, where a faintly seen fence beside the road keeps the unwary traveller from the deep and glutinous clutches of the dark water and ooze. 

Up right of the swans, cattle at the rhyne’s edge: there may be a place there where they can get down safely to the water’s edge to drink. And behind the cattle, in the murk, farm buildings.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it yet again – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film preset; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at Janice’s Infrared preset; Allerton Moor, west of Chapel Allerton; 22 Aug 2017.

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ARCHIVE 456 – SWANS OVER TEALHAM

 

 


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Mute Swans about to land on flooded Tealham Moor, south of Wedmore, on the Somerset Levels; 7 Feb 2014.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Much against good sense, I ventured down onto the Levels recently, to my habitual haunts on Tealham and Tadham Moors.  Not daring to take my usual cross-country route because of the many places where even small amounts of flooding might cut it, I drove down the main A38 road south from Bristol to Highbridge, and then went eastwards into the flatlands along another, relatively large road.  All was well on these main roads, but as soon as I got onto the smaller lanes, problems with water appeared.

Tealham and Tadham were mostly submerged, with just just the roads sticking up above the waters and little traffic about, but the floods in this more northerly part of the Levels are nothing like those further south, south of the Polden Hills, where whole villages are being overwhelmed, main roads have been cut for weeks, cutting edge pumping technology has been brought in from Holland, and the Army has been called in to help the local people.

This image is starting to look rather unphotographic, more like a painting maybe, and I always feel good when this happens.  Henrietta Richer and Dave Battarbee have both made suggestions about this image, which I’ve incorporated.  

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 200 ISO. 

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ARCHIVE 450 – THE BAY BESIDE BROOK COPSE

 

 


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Mute Swan in the bay beside Brook Copse, on the Chew Valley Lake’s northeastern edge; 15 May 2015.

An image almost without colour, with the marked exception of that beacon-like bill.  The various structures within this image are mainly horizontal – the wavelets, the areas of water plants – but the bird’s gentle bow wave is at a slight angle to this trend.

A popular path around the lake crosses a small stream or brook here via a small bridge, and walkers often feed the waterbirds from the bridge.  This swan spotted me on the bridge from some way off and, ever ready for food, came over – but I had not a thing edible on me!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO.

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