Dawn and Dusk: the magical hours

During the British winter months, the distinction between daylight hours and the periods around sunrise and sunset become far subtler than in summer-time, when the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Even so, dawn and dusk remain particularly exciting periods where the photographer’s sought-after hours of ‘golden light’ spill over the horizon; when the still air plays tune to the plethora of morning songsters; when emergence from and preparation for slumber present some of the most exciting possibilities for encounters with wildlife.

Over the last week we have been blessed with particularly clear and settled conditions here in Cornwall, with cold overnight temperatures facilitating that rare event that is so infrequent in the South-West: frost! The sunsets have been absolutely stunning on many an evening, coupled with the still descending of moist air into gentle depressions and valleys in the land, forming those delicate silky pockets of mist that persist until day break. Whilst I have had a fairly busy week and have been working most days, I have managed to venture out like a crepuscular creature for sunrise and sunset, which has provided some superb spectacles as a reward.

Here are some of my favourite morning and evening moments from this week…

After a still night with barely a breath of wind, sub-zero temperatures and moisture-laden air, dawn was one of those breathtaking spectacles as the sun broke the horizon. Taking a walk around the nearby woodland revealed a superb star-burst effect as the light spilled out between tree trunks, and the background accompaniment of the dawn chorus presented an exciting reminder that spring is on its way!

At the weekend I tagged along with a couple of friends to make an early morning siege on the Lizard point. We arrived at the car park beside the Lizard lighthouse, only to step out of the car and be met with a wall of noise: unbeknown to us, the bushes beside the car park play host to the roosting of some 5-8,000 Starlings! Shortly after our arrival, the crescendo built to a pitch and then black streams of birds started piling out and heading off to their daytime feeding grounds. The continuous emergence lasted for a goof five minutes. Turning around to see where they were heading, we suddenly noticed a silvery male Hen Harrier quartering the fields some 100 metres away! The bird glided gracefully past on silent, buoyant wingbeats, before dropping over a nearby hill. What a great start to the day!
I am lucky to live just a couple of minutes away from the superb Argal and College Resevoirs, managed by the South West lakes trust. I will often steal away to this local ‘patch’ in between studies to take a look at the great mix of birdlife that resides here, and recent evenings have been fantastic for their sunsets too!


The colours and lighting at either end of the day really can be rather special at this time of year. I spent a little time perched on the lake perimeter enticing the local swans to paddle over just into the right position to create this image
The intricate patterns and structure of this shrubby lichen (Usnea subfloridana) stood out as I wandered along the lake’s edge
It’s rare that Agral Reservoir takes on this glassy appearance, but the calm weather recently has meant that sunrises and sunsets here have been even more dramatic with the mirror-like reflection in the water surface. It was brilliant to sit quietly and watch Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks and Cormorants slipping underwater to pursue aquatic prey 
By staying out until darkness started descending, earlier in the week I discovered that the willow and sycamore trees encircling College Reservoir play host to an impressive roost of some 500 Jackdaws every night! As dusk fell, flocks started piling in from all directions, before gathering in the tree tops and producing a crescendo of their distinctive calls as they jostled around and began assembling themselves ready for the night 
I headed up to campus early a few mornings ago to carry out a ringing demonstration for a number of interested students. After setting a couple of mist nets up beside the feeders in one of the gardens, we managed to catch a nice selection of Blue and Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches and a Nuthatch

So just a few random highlights from this week, but if you want a take-away message: it is always worth getting up early, and you never know what exactly you might see!



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