Cuckoo photo wins Essex Wildlife Trust contest

Alan Leeks' prize-winning image of a dunnock feeding a juvenile cuckoo.

Alan Leeks' prize-winning image of a dunnock feeding a juvenile cuckoo. - Credit: Archant

Great Wakering photographer captures classic cuckoo image

Essex Wildlife Trust photography competition winners, from left, Alan Leeks, Tony Beckwith, Max Mart

Essex Wildlife Trust photography competition winners, from left, Alan Leeks, Tony Beckwith, Max Martin, Charlotte Smith, Stephen Tower, and John Watts (on behalf of his son, Dave Watts). Picture: ESSEX WILDLIFE TRUST - Credit: Archant

It’s an extraordinary photograph that provides an insight into one of the most extraordinary phenomena in all of Britain’s extraordinary wildlife.

Rarely seen and even more rarely photographed, a juvenile cuckoo is fed by a doting but deceived dunnock. The youngster has far outgrown its host, the parasitised parent having dutifully provided an almost constant supply of juicy tit-bits over days on end. So huge has the juvenile grown that the dunnock can stand on its back to feed it.

It is a scene repeated time and again in an English summer, with brood parasite adult cuckoos craftily laying their eggs in oblivious host species’ nests for the single chick to oust the eggs and young for which the nest was designed. It’s a well-documented part of UK natural history, but it’s not often observed.

Soon after this stunning image was captured the cuckoo will have headed south on its autumn migration to sub-Saharan Africa, the dunnock left behind in the Essex wood in which Alan Leeks took the photo, long forgotten by the migrant bird.

Mr Leeks will not forget the episode, however, as the image has become the 2017 winner in Essex Wildlife Trust’s annual photography competition.

Mr Leeks, of Great Wakering, near Southend, took the prize-winning shot at nearby Barling. “I got lucky,” he said. “It was the noise of the chick that first alerted me, screaming for more and more food.”

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He received his overall winner’s award and cheque for £250 from two of the competition’s judging panel - trust chief executive Andrew Impey and Russell Savory, the highly respected wildlife cameraman and film-maker - at an awards ceremony for category winners and runners-up at the trust’s Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre.

Earlier, Mr Leeks’ image had won the “Species” category. All category winners received a trophy. They were:

• EWT to a Tee category - Dave Watts’ image of Essex Wildlife Trust’s Lion Creek nature reserve, near Canewdon, on the Crouch Estuary

• Habitats category - Stephen Tower’s image of a misty River Chelmer

• Our Beautiful County category - Tony Beckwith’s image of the Langdon Hills, near Basildon

• Species category - Alan Leeks’ cuckoo chick and dunnock

• Unexpected Essex category - Charlotte Smith’s image of a bank vole eating beetroot in Charlotte’s Tollesbury garden

• Young Photographer category - Max Martin’s image of a little owl, taken at Tendring.

The six category runners-up who each received a certificate were: EWT to a Tee, Iain Ferguson for an image of Bedfords Park, in south Essex; Habitats, Lauren Heath, for an image of Harwich seafront; Our Beautiful County, Janet Harris for a photo of countryside at Stansted; Species, Neil Phillips, for an image of a grass snake eating a great crested newt; Unexpected Essex, Aaron Smith for an image of a water vole carrying its young in its mouth; Young Photographer, Ben Rumsby, for his photo of a wasp spider.

The trust said the breadth of subject matter in the competition entries, which were all taken in Essex, “perfectly illustrated the fabulous variety of Essex’s wildlife and wild places.”

The charity plans to launch its 2018 photography competition in late spring, and it will include some new categories.

The 2017 competition and its awards were supported by Southend-based Olympus KeyMed, which is a long-standing supporter and corporate members of the trust.

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