Tag Archives: birds

Wildlife Photography Hides

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Getting close to non-habituated wildlife in natural surroundings requires an intimate knowledge of the subject, extensive field craft skills and lots and lots of patience, often in changeable weather.

Of course this is all part of the challenge of being a wildlife photographer and when all the elements come together, it’s extremely rewarding.

However, in recent years, a number of photographers have committed themselves to providing the rest of us with additional opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with wildlife by providing purpose built professional hides for hire in a number of UK locations and with a variety of subjects.

Nature Photography Hides is one such company and is my preferred choice. The company was set up by Danny Green and Mark Hancox about four years ago and has become extremely popular.

I recently spent a day at their female kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) hide in Worchestershire and below are some of the results.

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel using moss to preen.Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel using moss to preen. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel preening. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel preening. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

And then in typical UK style the weather changed from nice bright white clouds to rain and at one point, hail. This is where hides really come in to their own, providing a steady and sturdy platform to continue to work from, as long as you have a willing subject of course.

Female Kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female kestrel with field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel in driving rain feeding on a field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel in driving rain feeding on a field mouse. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Female Kestrel using wet post to preen. Canon 1DMKIV with Canon 500mm f4 L IS USM. Click to visit Kestrel gallery

Female Kestrel using wet post to preen. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

The majority of us would love to have our own permanent hides set up, especially to ensure a element of originality, but the reality is that it takes a lot of investment, in time more then anything, to coax a subject to the point that it makes an appearance on daily basis. It can take a couple of years or more to get to the stage where you have a workable and reliable site.

For those of us that are not full-time professionals, and have limited free time, professionally run solutions such as Nature Photography Hides are a viable option for getting our wildlife photography fix.

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Red Kites at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Wales

30 years ago Wales had a mere handful of breeding pairs of Red Kites (Milvus Milvus), a fact that’s hard to believe when you spend the afternoon at Gigrin Farm with a spiralling mass of over 400 (can be less or a lot more depending on the weather and time of year) of these beautiful raptors filling the sky at feeding time.

Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of Red Kites in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Feeding stations have become an important element in the RSPB’s Red Kite conservation programme and ever since 1992 when Gigrin Farm was first approached, it’s been playing its very important role extremely successfully.

Now a true Welsh tourist attraction, Gigrin Farm is owned and run by Chris and Lena Powell and consists of 200 acres of land starting at 700 feet and rising to 1200 above sea level located in Rhayader in the Wye and Elan valleys in mid-Wales.

Gigrin is also the Red Kite Rehabilitation Centre in conjunction with The Welsh Kite Trust.

Admission to the feeding station for adults costs £5.00, for O.A.P £4.00 and for Children £3.00 (with 4yrs and under allowed in Free)

There are a number of conveniently located hides specifically aimed at photographers and film makers with costs starting at £12pp for ground level (accessible by wheelchair), rising to £22pp for the Big Tower Hide. The Big Tower hide can accomodate 6 photographers with tripods or 8 without, so reserving your spot with Chris Powell in advance is advisable, as it’s very popular.

(Prices correct as of 10 Mar 2014)

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK, Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kites are instantly recognisable in flight with their distinctive forked tails (fanned when diving) and striking colour, which is predominantly chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head. It’s a medium-large bird of prey (females being slightly larger then the males) in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. Vagrant Red Kites have even reached north to Finland and south to Israel, Libya and Gambia.

When the feeding starts there is definitely a pecking order with the older birds going first followed by the younger and then juvenile birds. You’ll witness some spectacular aerial acrobatics with amazing displays of twists, turns, diving and feeding on the wing.

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite twisting and diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an juvenile Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Red Kite feeding over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Frequent visitors to the station are a pair of White or Leucistic (reduced pigment) Red Kites. Normally at a distinct disadvantage in the wild but they’ve been accepted here by the other raptors.

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Leucistic Red Kite diving over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Leucistic Red Kite in flight over Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Expect to also see Carrion Crows, Ravens, Common Buzzard and Heron as they also frequent the station.

Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard perched in a tree on farmland in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK

Photo of an adult Common Buzzard in flight over Gigrin Farm in mid Wales, UK. Canon 1DMKIV and Canon 500mm f4 L

Gigrin’s kite feeding – using prime beef – takes place at 2pm GMT or 3pm BST every day.

Wintering Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/1250sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

One bird species that I’ve wanted to photograph for some time now is the Snow Bunting. In the UK they are most commonly seen in the winter, arriving from late September and leaving late February early March. Each year an estimated 10-15,000 birds winter here, with the majority staying in the northern regions. However, they can come as far south as the Kent and Welsh coasts as well as some parts of Northern and the Republic of Ireland. A region that they tend to frequent on a regular basis is the North Norfolk coast and although I’ve seen them plenty of times at several well-known locations, I’ve never managed to successfully photograph them until this year.

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

The aptly-named snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a hardy, medium-sized songbird of the high Arctic. During the breeding season, the adult male snow bunting is largely snowy white, except for a contrasting black back, black wing tips and black central tail feathers. Outside of the breeding season, the male and female snow bunting are more similar in appearance, both developing more buffy plumage. Juvenile snow buntings are distinguished from the adult by a greyer body and head, and a dark brownish-black tail and wings.

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting (female), Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Snow Bunting in flight - Tap on image to view collection

Wintering Snow Bunting, Norfolk – Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2500sec, ISO 400 – © Andrew Sproule

Next challenge is to photograph the male in its breeding plumage in the summer!!!

Get to know your local patch

Many of us are on a constant quest to improve our photography and for some this means travelling to exotic climes (both in the UK and further afield) to photograph what we perceive as more exciting species. Let’s face it – most of us feel that we do not have the luxury of stimulating wildlife subjects on our doorsteps and the thought of photographing commonplace flora and fauna is not that exciting.

But what if travel is not an option! What if you don’t have the time, money or even the inclination to journey far from you local area!

Perhaps the most commonly offered piece of advice given is to persevere and go and find some wildlife near by. In other words “get to know your local patch”.

Unless you’re a full-time professional photographer, very often, you have limited time to invest in your photography. So, to improve your chances of success, you could focus on one or two subjects as a longer-term project. Getting to know your chosen subject intimately will eventually yield results as you start to become skilled at spotting quirky habits and rituals, which can often become heightened and exaggerated at different times throughout the year. You will start to be able to predict when an opportunity is about to present itself.

Realistically, most amateur nature photographers, like myself, working within their local environment will only be able to cover one or two species thoroughly per year in any detail and most of us obviously aspire to do more than that.

But, I don’t see this as too much of a problem? I have a small public access country-park lake (probably ¾ mile in circumference) in my vicinity in Kent, which has all the usual suspects – Mute Swan, Coot, Canada and Greylag geese, Mallard etc and I love trying to capture these in different ways, angles and in different light and weather conditions.

Greylag goose preening at sunrise - tap on image to view collection

Adult Greylag goose preening - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6, 1/1600sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

Adult Great-crested Grebe - Click on image to view collection

Adult Great-crested Grebe - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6 with 1.4x extender, 1/2000sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

Mute Swan feeding - click image to view collection.

Adult Mute Swan - Canon 1D4, Canon 15mm Fisheye f/2.8 @ f/16, 1/200sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

A pair of Eurasian Coot at first light - Click on image to go to collection.

A pair of Eurasian Coot at first light - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6, 1/500sec, ISO 200 - © Andrew Sproule

Adult Canada goose - Tap on image to go to collection

Adult Canada goose - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6, 1/800sec, ISO 200 - © Andrew Sproule

Adult Mallard bathing at first light - tap on image to view collection

Adult Mallard drake bathing at first light - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO 200 - © Andrew Sproule

And there’s always the unexpected visitor. The lake has yielded Kingfisher, Snow, Egyptian and Red-breasted geese, Red-Crested Pochard and more. . .

Adult Tufted Duck drake - tap on image to view collection

Adult Tufted duck drake - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/5.6, 1/2000sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

Adult Egyptian goose at sunset - tap on image to view collection

Adult Egyptian goose at sunset - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/4, 1/640sec, ISO 500 - © Andrew Sproule

Adult Red-crested Pochard

Adult Red-crested Pochard - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/6.3, 1/2000sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

Red-breasted goose bathing

Adult Red-breasted goose bathing - Canon 1D4, Canon 500mm IS USM f/4 @ f/4, 1/1000sec, ISO 400 - © Andrew Sproule

I frequent this lake which is local to me, but in your area it could just as easily be woodland, forest, fields, river, canal etc etc (as always please seek landowners permission if not publically accessible).

Pretty much all wildlife is incredibly complex and therefore can be extremely engaging. All wildlife are creatures of habit, and if you take the time to observe them fully, you will see your chosen subject/s differently. The increasing popularity of the BWPA (British Wildlife Photography Awards) is testament to this fact. Other countries have similar photography awards celebrating their wildlife’s unique diversity.

So, when the chance to travel does present itself you will be in a good place to be able to take advantage of any opportunities using the skills you’ve acquired from “your local patch”.