Baby Darters - D1, D2 & D3

A few days after Xmas I visited the Darter nest.  I spent about half an hour watching and photographing and then..........a tiny head popped out, too small and too far away to get any clear shots.  It was over a week before I made it back, this time two heads.  I was mesmerised and decided to come early the following morning........three heads, and not so little.  The nest is on the other side of the river, and far enough away to make it difficult to get clear shots.  Obvious solution, go to the other side.................the grass is always greener on the other side!!

Not so easy!!  I took a GPS location of the nest then looked up the road map for the streets which would get me the closest to that idyllic other side.  On the map the river looked very close to the road. Excellent........ problem solved...............  Alas not to be.............the strip of land between the river and the road was overgrown, I pushed through, crashing through dead branches and deep leaf litter, so far so good.  Then,  feral blackberry bushes, over my head, dense and riddled with thorns, I tried to tunnel through...............scratches, blood, ripped pants and I couldn't even see the river.  I don't give up easily but defeat was at hand and I turned around.  

Maybe I could go around, cross where it is shallow perhaps...................I walk down river and up is deep and overgrown on the other side so even if I crossed, the same blackberry obstacle would present itself.  

A boat??  Obvious solution, but our canoe is huge and tied up to the garage roof, it would take a major effort.

The last and least favourable option...................swim.  So I find a wet bag for the camera, take a few garbage bags and a change of clothes.  I arrive at the river bank and, as usual the water looks pretty foul.  I decide to swim over without the camera to check it out.  One foot in and I sink into the oozy mud to knee level.............I launch myself in to avoid the mud and start swimming.  About half way over I hit a submerged tree branch and pull myself along.  Arrive at the other close to the nest......wonderful, amazing view.  Swim back excited, put the camera in the wet bag and the wet bag in a garbage bag with a towel.  I am nervous about having the precious camera so close to water.  I float the garbage bag and swim along behind it, arrive at the other side, step off the tree trunk and sink into thigh deep black mud.............try very hard not to think about what might be down there.  

I am rewarded with a wonderful close view of the nest but, it is not great for photos. The light is harsh and the background very cluttered with branches.  The photos are too busy and there is no real way around it.  I flounder around in the mud, sinking in and holding onto tree branches with one arm to stay upright while holding the camera above the water with the other.   In the end I sit on the submerged branch and spend about an hour watching Mama Darter on her nest.  A little head pokes out from time to time.  I was about to leave when I heard the harsh croak of Papa Darter flying toward the nest.  He landed and exchanged a greeting with Mrs Darter while all three babies scrambled out from her underneath her feathers and came to life, desperately begging for breakfast.  

Long necks emerged and I watched as Dad fed each one while Mum sat on a nearby branch.  Dad would open his mouth and the baby's entire head and neck would disappear inside for about a minute while it fed from the contents of its father's crop.  I  got a few shots and watched.  I felt really happy sitting there in the sun with my legs in the water covered in mud watching this wonderful family. A couple of canoeists paddled past, they were engrossed in conversation and only looked up and  saw me when they were about two meters away.   Not expecting a mud covered girl in the middle of the river, they both got a fright, their canoes wobbled and I laughed, noticing how much I enjoy ridiculous situations.


I packed up my gear and swam back pushing the garbage bag in front of me.  Luckily the camera stayed dry although I ended up covered in mud, again.   My shots were not that great, and I have decided it is actually better on this side of the river.  It is further from the nest but the backdrop is not as cluttered and, consequently, the shots are clearer and less busy.    Lesson...........the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, although in this case the mud is definitely deeper, thicker and blacker.  I will be visiting the nest again this week and will probably just stay on this side...............