Charlie Wheeler, Manager of Abbotsbury Swannery, 09 Sep 2019

A review by Jane Tearle of an evening with guest speaker Charlie Wheeler, Manager of Abbotsbury Swannery
Charlie presented two his work in two talks - A Year Through My Lens at Abbotsbury Swannery and It’s Not All Swans

Wow! We learned so much about swans last evening with Charlie Wheeler, illustrated by some detailed as well as artistic photographs. Charlie, warden and manager at the Swannery in Abbotsbury has the pleasure of working with these beautiful birds in a beautiful place. His drive to work with views across the Fleet set the scene.

Did you know swans have a de-salination gland which enables them to drink the brackish water of the Fleet? Did you know they have ears, a little hole tucked under specially designed feathers? Did you know they have serrated edges to their beaks to enable them to pull the eel grass, which grows in the Fleet, from its roots to get at the seeds within? Neither did I! Oh and then there is the oil gland near their tail to make sure they waterproof their feathers properly. I shall look at swans with a new respect.

The year at the Swannery, with its regular population of around 800 swans, swelling to 12-1300 with winter visitors, is a busy one whatever the season. The nesting procedure with reeds provided from the local reed beds; the mating process and the incubation period with the cygnets from one clutch, timed to arrive within a few hours of each other, using their specially designed egg tooth to emerge. Charlie’s photos of all the events helped us to appreciate the wonder of nature. Moulting, the development of new feathers, the cygnets bonding process and learning to fly all leading to release day with them being ringed and tagged and sent off to the Fleet to fend for themselves.

In the second half, Charlie took us through his development as a photographer suggesting it would be an educational activity for us all to do sometime; taking images from our first exploration with a camera to where we are today, whether 6 months, 6 years, or maybe 60 years? Now there’s a challenge! Charlie’s own journey, started in 2008 when he bought a second-hand camera to record things he was seeing at the Swannery; wanting to learn more by joining Bridport Camera Club where the timeline of his learning progressed to where he is today.

African wildlife trips to Botswana showed us the breadth of his ability as a photographer. His background in animal behaviour emphasised the need for knowledge of your subject and giving yourself every opportunity to get the pictures you want, sometimes with the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

A number of his images now sell well and many have been successful in competitions. Close ups of parts of swans for an abstract approach, some in black and white which was very effective; their feather patterns, their brightly coloured beaks and of course their cygnets tucked under their parents’ wings or in the crook of their neck showed us the variety of compositions that can be achieved.

The image of swans fighting, as the males evidently often do, stood out, with its backlit reeds and the drama of the flailing wings and flying water, the aggressive intent being foremost. For his final image Charlie demonstrated his new acquisition, a wide-angle lens, with the swan taking centre stage in a striking pose!

A superb evening Charlie. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm. Whether your subjects are swans, lions, hyenas or gorgeous landscapes of the Dorset coast together with your expertise with the camera gave us an inspirational start to the season.

Watch out The Swannery there could be an influx of enthused photographers coming your way!

~ Jane Tearle