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The Hunt for Wren October

by Alex Cooper 10 months ago in Nature
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Autumnal backyard bird photography

Image by author

The term ‘wildlife photography’ conjures up images of majestic creatures in exotic locales.

A polar bear paddling past a glacier.

Elephants trundling across the dusty savannah.

A tiny brown bird flitting through the leaf litter in a rural English garden.

OK, maybe one of those is not like the others. But majesty is in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder doesn’t have a Nat Geo budget. Backyard bird photography it is, then.

The Hunt for Wren October (OK, Mostly November)

I spent much of my Autumn outside in the garden, camera in hand, getting to know the ways of the wren — 0ne of the UK's smallest yet loudest birds.

I could say this is a powerful metaphor for how we can find beauty right under our noses, or how we should stop and appreciate the little things. Or I could be more realistic and say that a wren lives in a bush in my garden, so it’s a bit more achievable (and affordable) than photographing elephants.

While it doesn’t get the pulse racing like certain charismatic megafauna, the Eurasian wren — or just wren, around these parts — has its own charm.

Quickfire Wren Facts

An insectivore, the wren gets its latin name (Troglodytes trogolodytes: meaning 'cave-dweller') from its habit of chasing insects into small crevices, or roosting in cavities.

It's also a bird of many names and is sometimes known as 'Jenny wren' here in Britain. Elsewhere in Europe, the wren has a more masculine reputation: the Germans dubbed it 'Zaunkönig', or 'fence king.'*

*My own expertise has led me to believe that there are both female AND male wrens. Otherwise, its survival as a species would be tricky.

It’s the third-smallest British bird, behind the goldcrest and firecrest. Appearance-wise, it's quite inconspicuous, eschewing fancy colouration in favour of nondescript brown plumage.

Its shape doesn't lend itself to flowery adjectives, either. At best, perhaps it could be called plump. At worst, dumpy. Yet, I make no secret of my fondness for a spherical bird. (As I have written about before.)

My Nikon don’t want none unless you got floof, hun.

Mission: Possible

Wrens are the most common British bird, so finding one didn’t involve months of laborious planning or staking out a likely spot for days without sleep. I opened my door and stood by a bush.

You usually hear wrens before you see them. For such a tiny bird, they have a surprisingly loud call, whether it’s their trilling song or their chattering alarm call.

At first, I wandered around without much of a plan, just hoping to get lucky, and that went about as well as could be expected.

The next day, I sat down and waited, but none of the nearby perches had a nice background or good lighting, so the few pictures weren’t anything to write home about, either.

Over the course of a few days, I learned more about this little bird’s habits. There were at least two of them, calling to each other from different ends of the garden. They also made circuits of certain spots: stopping off in a hedge, hopping onto a fence, or perching on the side of a tree.

Armed with more knowledge, I tried to get in positions that would lead to a nice composition, predicting their movements rather than following them around. I was playing 3D chess against my minuscule quarry.

The light was never great, so it wasn’t all smooth sailing, but I’m quite happy with some of the final results and glad I got some poses with the characteristic raised tail.

Image by author

Image by author

Image by author

I needed to use a relatively slow shutter speed for all of these, so I was thankful for my lens stabilisation — and my subject, for staying relatively still.

Despite the mundane subject matter, I actually think I improved my skills a bit over the last few weeks, as well as getting more in-tune with the local wildlife.

So, I suppose I should say danke to the Zaunkönig. Or maybe even vive la wrenaissance!


About the author

Alex Cooper

Humour writer, self-published author, amateur wildlife photographer, and red panda enthusiast.

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