Photographing the RSPB Titchwell Turtle Doves

As the weather gets steadily colder, and the turtle doves that breed in the UK are all heading back south for warmer climes, Les Bunyan tells us about his summer spent photographing these fantastic birds, and his hopes that they return next year.

Turtle Dove at Titchwell – Photo credit Les Bunyan

“I’m lucky enough to be a volunteer at Titchwell and can be found there several times a week, so it was great news that early in May a turtle dove was reported of all places, in the car park! For the first few weeks I seemed to always just miss it but at the end of the month I eventually got my first sighting. It seemed to be using the same few perches so one morning I decided to simply wait for it to come to me. Sure enough it wasn’t long before it arrived and I started snapping away. I stayed close to my car for fear of flushing the bird, but it became apparent that this particular spot was where it could see, what I later believed to be, a nest. This was confirmed when a second bird started taking nest material into the bushes. A breeding pair was a dream come true, and it meant I could almost guarantee good photos. One bird, the male I think, became very confiding, and would allow me to approach quite close. I spent hours in the car park eventually showing lots of visitors the best vantage points, and they were amazed at how beautiful these birds are when seen at close quarters.

Turtle Dove at Titchwell – Photo credit Les Bunyan

I was often asked why I was taking so many photos of the same few birds and each time my answer was the same, “They may not be here next year”. Many were surprised by this, but it’s only 30 or so years ago when they could be counted in the hundreds at this site. The decline most likely comes as a result of a combination many things, but loss of food and habitat here in the UK, potentially unsustainable levels of hunting on migration, and changes in land-use on their wintering grounds are all likely to play a part.

But back to a positive story at Titchwell; on the 22nd of June I saw 2 fledged birds emerge and show in the bushes for a few weeks and these were the first juveniles I had seen for some years. Many of us think there were in fact 2 pairs present but a second nest was never confirmed. By the start of July they left the car park and were seen and heard less often.

Juvenile Turtle Dove at Titchwell – Photo credit Les Bunyan

If someone had told me at the start of 2017 that the bird I would photograph more than any other would be a turtle dove I’d have laughed at them!

Our hope is that these iconic birds return to our little safe haven next year, and if they do, I’ll be waiting for them.”

Les Bunyan, RSPB Titchwell volunteer.