Photographing Birds at Clare Glen

Firstly welcome to our brand new blog - Ireland Bird and Nature Photography and today we are photographing birds at Clare Glen along the River Cusher.

Since arriving in Northern Ireland from New Zealand a little over a year ago, we have moved into our new home, got it sorted and are very comfortable in our new surroundings. Now we are finding the time to go out and explore the countryside in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and start learning about the wildlife that calls this place home.

On the 1st of March, the first official day of spring, Rosie and I woke to a wonderfully fine day and decided to explore a stretch of the River Cusher at Clare Glen in County Armagh. We had not visited this spot before, but we had studied the area online and we anticipated an exciting day ahead of us.

We packed our lunch, leapt into the car, zoomed off heading north and 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination. Crocus flowers greeted us in the Clare Glen carpark and I had to take a photo before we hoisted our camera bags upon our ageing shoulders and headed off down the walking track, chatting like excited chipmunks.

Crocus Flowers at Clare Glen
White and purple crocus blooms

What a joy it was to be among mature hazel, ash and oak trees. The early spring sun was bursting through the canopy, lighting up the tree trunks and illuminating the forest floor.

Treecreeper Paradise

Our first encounter was with a pair of treecreepers and they were very active patrolling their little patch of the woods. They kept us busy for over fifteen minutes and gave my soon aching arms a real good workout. I struggle to handhold my canon 300 f2.8 canon prime with the 2x converter nowadays as it is a weighty beast. Old age is a harsh taskmaster and not for cowards.

Treecreeper at Clare Glen
Rosie's photo of one of the treecreepers with its tail all fanned out in the sun

We then encountered an inquisitive coal tit that came in for a quick visit before departing to more pressing matters...

Inquisitive coal-tit

Dapper Dippers

Rosie and I had heard reports of a pair of White-throated dippers on the River Cusher that runs through Clare Glen, and the dippers were the main reason we were there. We also knew that the birds would be preparing for nesting season. With a few treecreeper images already under our belts, we ignored any further distractions and headed directly for the River Cusher.

We had a fair idea where to look and the birds were exactly where we expected them to be. Now that we had found the dippers, we set about finding a spot to photograph them. We had to make sure we were far enough away from the nest so we would not disturb the birds. Once we got settled in and hunkered down, the birds also settled and they began their frequent trips to and fro with nesting material. The dippers nearly always landed on the rocks close to us before heading up into their nest.

  • The problem for us was which rocks would they land on?

The area was large and open, with rocks jutting out of the river ranging from our far left to right.
Eventually one landed giving us a chance and we made the most of it.

Dippers gathering nesting material along River Cusher
Gathering nesting material 


The lighting conditions over the river bed were a little more problematic than we encountered in the forest. The light ranged from bright direct light, to dark and shady.

A handy tip to remember when shooting birds over the water is to get as low as you can to give the bird an optimum profile and eliminate specular highlights.

  1. Specular highlights are bright spots of light source that seep through i.e. like through the leaf canopy of a forest.
  2. Specular highlights appear as bright shiny orbs and can either add to, or on the negative side, destroy an image. 
  3. Specular highlights can be used creatively to great effect if the the image can tolerate it.
  4. However, specular highlights will often compete with your subject i.e. the bird and will spoil your image because the natural eye is attracted to the brightest areas of your image first stealing the focus off your main subject.

 In our case, direct sunlight through the trees was illuminating various spots of the river.

Dipper at Clare Glen
I had a tough job composing a shot to exclude the specular highlights bouncing back off the water. No matter what I tried there was no way of excluding them.

I had no option other than to shoot from the position I was seated in. If I had tried to move I would have upset the bird. Later with the help of photoshop I was able to dampen down the bright spots from the water behind the bird.

We managed to get some great shots after spending about 20 minutes with the dippers and the time came to leave them to themselves. So with swollen memory cards, we left them to their nest building.

We still had heaps of exploring to do, but with our main objective taken care of, we felt less pressure and took our time to enjoy ourselves and the forest was so alive with birdsong that even my ears could hear them.


Bright light under the canopy might allow for faster shutter speeds and as a result sharper images, but there is a trade off. I knew that the bright light not only leads to specular highlights, but would also make it harder to preserve the detail in the highlights on the white belly and chest of the treecreepers.
Nature photography is often a compromise!

Treecreeper at Clare Glen
Soft, dappled light, might mean higher ISOs or slower shutter speeds, but it also means better colour and more detail can be recorded by the camera sensor.

As a result, the softer light in the image above is much more suitable for showing off the finer detail of the treecreeper. 

Time flew and eventually our hungry tummies urged us back to the car for a late lunch. While on the way we encountered a few busy blue-tits...

Blue tit in Spring
The blue tit despite being common is still one of my favourite birds.

Clare Glen had done itself proud and the weather had been perfect. We had enjoyed the first official day of Spring 2022 and we will return one day in the future to see how the dippers are going.

Photographing Spring at Clare Glen gives you an appetite LOL
Photographing birds at Clare Glen gave someone quite an appetite LOL
We will leave you with the nest building pair of dippers.
Its not every day you get to photograph a pair of dippers together on a branch.

Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed our first post. We look forward to sharing our adventures with our readers and you can sign up to our mailing list here and Like our page on Facebook