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Mountain Hare

 

 
Mark Hamblin
 
 
 

Mountain hares - a long term love affair.

 

Some wildlife subjects are a constant itch that needs scratching and for me mountain hares fall into that category and irrespective of how many encounters I have enjoyed with them I want more. They may not be one of the worlds greatest megafauna but they have a distinct character and the more time that I spend with them the deeper I delve into the world. Over the past few years I have been fortunate to work with a local population of mountain hares and have got to know them well, often spending many hours in the company of a single hare on any one visit. And I’ve found that this is really the key to successful images. Again it’s a cliche but the longer I spend with a subject the luckier I seem to get. But of course luck only plays a small part and what is actually happening is that I am giving myself a better chance of observing hare behaviour. And equally importantly an individual hare gets more accustomed to me and therefore behaves naturally in my presence.

Hares as a species though are fickle. Some bolt even when I ‘m 100m or more away and give no chance of capturing a shot. Others will allow me to approach reasonably close, say to within 30-40m but then get twitchy and may wander away. And then there are the sitters. These animals tend to sit tight in their daytime ‘forms’ relying on camouflage and don’t budge until you’re right on top of them. The sitters can be hard to spot and may be tucked in against a rock or lying low in a snow hole and I’ve virtually trodden on some animals before they’ve shot out at high speed from my feet. But if I can spot one of these sitters from distance then these usually offer the best chance of photography.

The advantage of making repeated visits to the same location is that I’ve been able to build up a good knowledge of where I might locate individuals because like the rest of us hares are creatures of habit and will return to the same ‘form’ to lie up during the day. Most animals will have several forms that they favour so I tend to check these out first and hope to find one or two occupied. It’s then a matter of getting into position. This usually involves a slow approach stopping every few metres to make sure that the hare remains relaxed. I also try to avoid direct eye contact and don’t necessarily approach directly towards them but take a roundabout route. Once I’m close enough to start shooting I’ll take a few shots so the hare gets accustomed to the noise of the shutter but saying that I’ve not found this to be a problem.

                                        Once I’ve found a hare I can work with, and assuming its in a photogenic spot, I’ll stick with it even though it may not do much for hours on end. The point is that sooner or later it will and only by being in position and ready to shoot will I be able to get the more interesting shots that I’m after. Spending extended periods of time with an individual also allows it to fully relax and this is when the best shooting opportunities begin to present themselves. Hares have the rather unusual behaviour of eating their own droppings during the day. This allows them to extract additional nutrients from their food that weren’t digested the first time. Whilst this doesn’t necessarily make for great shots it does mean that the hare will get up and move around every so often to do this. This may be followed by a grooming session which also makes for more interesting images.

As dusk approaches hares generally start to become active again and this can be the best time for pictures. However, I’ve learnt from bitter experience that it doesn’t pay to be too close as a hare is three times bigger when it gets up and stretches compared to when its hunkered down in its form. Several times I’ve been caught out and not been able to fit the whole animal in the frame. This is when I crave a telephoto zoom rather than the fixed 600mm. But having got a lot of close-up portraits I tend to sit a bit further back now and give the hare more space so that if and when it does get up and stretch or amble off across the snow I’m at the right distance to shoot it at a suitable size in the frame. I’ve also started to take shots with a 70-200mm lens which allows me to include part of the background. This is particularly effective in snowy conditions as it helps to convey the adverse weather and show the hostile environment that these hares have to cope with.

Last winter was not the best for snow and I had to go higher up the hill to find suitable conditions to photograph the hares and this also meant that I was often working with different animals which were not quite as confiding as those lower down. At times I struggled to get close enough for decent shots but eventually I came across several hares that allowed me into range. On one occasion I was photographing one individual in its form when another animal suddenly approached it resulting in a bit of a scuffle as the ‘resident’ hare chased the interloper away. But undeterred it came back shortly afterwards and ended up siting just a few metres away from me. I was right out in the open kneeling on the snow and it was obviously aware of my presence yet seemed perfectly at ease and in fact I ended up following it around for about an hour before it finally sauntered back to it’s form lower down the hill.


With this winter just underway and the hares turning white once again I’m itching to get back out on the hill but first we need some of that all important ingredient - snow. It shouldn’t be too long to wait now.

 

                                            LITTLE OWLS IN FLIGHT

 
                                                                                               
 
                                                                                         Neil Neville
 
 
 
I have been working with wild Little Owls for three years now and was delighted and honoured to be asked if I would like to add my hide onto Nature Photography Hides network of quality photographic hides, I was particularly pleased to be asked this as they already had an established,successful Little Owl hide at their fantastic Worcestershire location, but, being located in Buckinghamshire and very close to their Fox Hide run by Tom Way made it an attractive proposition for both of us, so, back in March this year I decided to team up with Nature Photography Hides to bring nature photographers an optional, quality, wild Little Owl experience from a different part of the UK.
 
 
 
 
One of the attractions the Buckinghamshire hide has to offer for photographers is the ability to be able to capture unique images of the Owls in flight.This is made possible by the position of the hide in relation to the Owls nesting site, and, due to the fact that the owls are prolific breeders ( 11 owlets in two seasons! ) This in turn ensures a very active period for the Owls, thus enabling plenty of chances to capture these charismatic birds of prey on the wing, taking off and landing in acrobatic style.
So, we decided to take advantage of this activity to bring photographers a unique Little Owls in Flight Workshop to which many clients enjoyed and captured this year. 
 
 
 
 
We allocate the entire month of May to specifically focus on the Owls in flight, this is to make the most of the busiest period in the Owls breeding cycle when any owlets are newly hatched and constantly in need of feeding.Also, due to the configuration of the site, is our ability to make the most of the available light.The hide itself faces east giving the chance of some great backlit images of the Owls in the mornings and gorgeous, warm, light on the birds as the afternoon turns toward evening and sunset, so plenty of scope for a variety of images in different lighting situations.
 
 
 
 
Capturing birds in flight is by no means easy, it is technically demanding with a very high failure rate and the Owls are no exception to this, they are small, their flight is fairly quick, erratic and undulating, often landing in an acrobatic fashion but once an image has been captured in sharp focus it quickly becomes addictive leaving you wanting more and more of the same, I like to describe it as "frustrating fun", so, this year I set about trying different methods of simplifying the process of photographing the Owls in flight.
To start with, the hide, due to limitations at the site is too compact for photographers to use tripods so we were using beanbags, this was fine for the Owls when perched but had limitations when trying to photograph the birds in flight, so I designed and had made a hide plate which would allow the use of a gimbal type tripod head to use instead of beanbags, they worked perfectly and made it so much easier to track the birds as they flew in to the perches, improving the hit rate dramatically.
 
 
 
 
Another great shot to achieve is of an Owl acrobatically landing on a perch, made even more dramatic if there is a little wind around the site. To capture images like that I set about developing a method whereby I could do just that, and one which would deliver good results on a reasonably consistent basis, so that, teamed with camera techniques like back button focussing and using the pre-focussing facility found on most quality telephoto lenses makes that type of image a real possibility, add into the mix some great light and you are on to a winner.
 
Moving forwards, I aim to build on the success of the Owls in Flight Workshop with some new ideas for 2015, among them is the holy grail of Little Owl images..... flying straight down the barrel of your lens!
 
 
 
 
The Buckinghamshire Little Owl Hide has so much more to offer too, apart from capturing the Owls in flight, stunning portraits on natural perches are guaranteed, you are also highly likely to be able to photograph any owlets once they have fledged, usually July onwards and if you are really lucky, interaction between parents and owlets plus unusual behaviour such as "rain bathing" and wing stretching.
 
We are fairly confident that the workshops available at the Buckinghamshire Little Owl Hide will be very popular for 2015 so now would be a great time to think about adding us into our plans for next year, bookings are now being taken for Mid April through to the End of September with May being being the optimum month for the flight work.
 
 Contact Mark at sales@naturephotographyhides for more information or to make a booking.
 

 



The Seasonal Review: Red Foxes

by Tom Way

Every Spring I start with the intention of spending as many evenings in the hide photographing Red Foxes as I can. In reality by the time I have factored in the evenings where I am either giving talks, away on location or attending an exhibition, these days actually amount to fewer than I would like. However, I was keen to improve on my images from last season with the location of the new hide and using new equipment. 

Fox 3

Fox 5

Fox 9

 

I began shooting back in April this year, as time is needed to give the foxes a chance to become accustomed to the sound of the camera shutters. As these are wild rural foxes they can be shy, so minimal lens movement is important aswell as not firing off a thousand frames! The activity was steady during April with two males coming back and forward in front of the hide but the busy vixens only coming onto the site after dark. It was not until early May in which the activity really started to pick up and where I opened the hide to the public in partnership with Nature Photography Hides.

 

Fox 4

 

Fox 2

 

Fox 1

 

Although I was consciously trying to achieve simple portraits this year, I am constantly thinking about new angles and settings. Having a few wild flowers in the foreground added a hint of colour and there are some exciting ideas for next year in the pipeline already. Whenever the opportunity arose this year with this particular male, I would use a 500mm lens and a 1.4x converter to try something different as he did not mind coming quite close to the hide.

 

Fox 13

 

Although traditionally during May this is too early for the cubs to be coming in front of the hide, I love shooting at this time of year as the grass provides such a lush green out of focus foreground and backdrop to the images. It was exciting news when I first noticed that vixens were lactating and felt reassured that this would be the third year in a row that I would be lucky enough to see cubs. From those three vixens emerged two different sets of cubs which kept me guessing on their arrival all the way up until the 1st week in July, a whole month later than last year, but finally they stepped out into the meadow for the first time.

 

Fox 8

 

Fox 10

 

Fox 7

 

All together I saw 5 different individual cubs, though three of them were very shy and so most of my photographic opportunities came from the smallest cubs of the group. With fantastic large marble eyes and beautiful black tear drops on their face they provided some perfect moments over of the 2 months. The cubs grow extremely quickly and there is only a relatively short window in which the cubs are at their cutest!

 

Fox 6

 

Fox 11

 

The height of activity is now over for this year but now the cubs are significantly larger I am hoping to keep working on a few ideas with autumn colours through the coming months. This is a long term project that I could never tire of doing. Each night is different, some evenings see far greater activity than others but that is the nature of wildlife photography. Those moments where the inquisitive young cub almost walks right up into your lens hood only happens once or twice in a season but is worth the wait! If there is any snow forecast for this winter, there will be a last minute booking option on the Nature Photography Hides Website. Bookings for 2015 in the hide will open early next year, so if you fancy taking your own pictures of rural red foxes you can click on the link to register your interest: Nature Photography Hides

 

Fox 12

 



 

 

Kestrel Hide
 

Colin Townend is our weekend man at our Worcestershire site, a lot of you will have met him by now, and maybe you didn’t know he’s also a photographer. He has just spent a day in the Kestrel hide in Worcestershire and sent in a few shots. The male Kestrel is now in superb condition and moulted all his immature feathers from last year; he’s looking great and visiting every day as these top shots show. This bird has been with us over a year now; we guess the female is sitting on eggs as she hasn’t been seen for a few weeks. We have moved the hide about 200 yards further from the farm buildings and made it a three window hide, with new comfy chairs. The field behind the perches has been ploughed and is creating a nice clean background for us.

 

Kestrel 1

 

Kestrel 2

 

Kestrel 3

 

Kestrel 4

 

Kestrel 5

 

 


 




Red Squirrels - Cairngorms National Park

 

 

I've got to be honest; my red squirrel photography is in the doldrums. Despite a shed-load of fresh ideas, the Scottish winter, like everywhere else has been a constant diet of wind and rain followed by more wind and rain - not conducive to successful photography. But it’s 2014, we've fastened the hide roofs back down and I'm all full of meteorological optimism. The long range forecast includes its fair share of cold and clear conditions and I can already feel the adrenaline fuelled by running, jumping, flying, leaping...and of course, posing squirrels. If you've never been to the Highlands to photograph our squirrels (they're not really ours you understand), the clock is ticking, winter is waning and with luck, the snow is coming!

Peter Cairns

 

Red Squirrel 1

 

Red Squirrel 2

 

Red Squirrel 3

 

Red Squirrel 4

 

Red Squirrel 5

 

Red Squirrel 6

 

Red Squirrel 7

 

Red Squirrel 8

 


Osprey
 

I had never previously had chance to photograph Osprey on a perch, but last week spent a couple of days in the hide in the Cairngorms. To say it’s exciting when this beauty lands on a perch in front of you is an under estimation, it’s truly amazing. Pete and Amanda Cairns have had to work very hard and make a few last minutes changes to the hide but it’s been worth it.  It was a couple of hours wait for the female bird who landed first and was with us for a good while, wing stretching, having a shake, pecking at the fish before flying off, she came back an hour later for a brief visit before flying off with a fish. Male and female birds are always around the hide in the dry river bed and it seems that the perch is very popular with the male Osprey in particular; a couple of days after my visit the male were on the perch for over two hours.

I have hundreds of shots to go through but wanted to get a few up as there are only a couple of spaces left for this year and it’s a truly fantastic opportunity. I would like to say thanks to Pete Cairns who has created an amazing experience for us.

 

 

Osprey 1

 

Osprey 2

 

Osprey 3

 

Osprey 4

 

 

 



Little Owls

 

Little Owls

We have been feeding our Little Owls now for over two years and during that time they have rewarded us with some great photo opportunities. There is something really special about photographing wild Little Owls and when one lands it is really exciting. I have photographed them many times over the years but I still get a real buzz when one drops down. I have had mixed success in this hide and although I was really pleased with my winter shots, I wanted to get some more stuff on them during the spring. So once Mark rang me to say he had found some special perches I just had to find the time to go. I am so glad I did because Mark is an expert at finding perches and they suited this beautiful bird. Not only had he found some nice Ivy covered posts, he had also built a stone wall for the owls to perch on. We pride ourselves on finding new perches because that way our set-ups are not always the same and so people come away with different images.

Little Owls

Little Owls

Little Owls

Little Owls

I only spent a couple of hours in the hide and it was a very productive time. The male Owl was very busy as he was not only feeding himself but also the female who was incubating the eggs. The Owls have decided to nest in the tree right above our hide and so just drop down to feed when they need too. In the last couple of days the eggs have hatched and now both the male and female are dropping down. I wish I had the time to go back especially when the young are starting to fledge because once they have left the nest these bundles of joy will also visit the feeding site. If you are interested in capturing the young chicks then drop Liz an email or follow us on Facebook as we will update the page.

Little Owls

Little Owls

I also made the effort to spend a day in our new Kestrel hide too. I have been before and got some great stuff of the adult female which was in March. At that time the background was the ploughed field which was really complimentary to her. Now we are into late spring the crop has started to grow and so the background has completely changed. This vibrant green produces something different now. We had a nice surprise whilst we waited for the female to turn up. When she eventually landed for her free meal we realised it was a completely different bird. It was a young male and we are not sure if it is one of our female's youngsters, although it does seem a tad early. We haven't seen the female for a while so it is hard to tell.

Kestrel

Kestrel

Kestrel

It is always exciting when you attract wildlife in this way as you just never know what is likely to turn up or happen nature is so unpredictable. We hope he stays a little while because he is a stunning little male. We will also update on our female because we are sure she will come back soon too. What we really want is the adult male as they have got to be one of the most beautiful birds of prey in the UK.

Kestrel

Kestrel

Danny Green

 


 

 

Kestrel
 

Our site in Worcestershire has long been known for the Kingfisher hide, and the Little Owl but I have always wanted to add a classic farmland bird, the Kestrel. We have always had a pair around the area but they never came close enough to the farm to work with so a couple of months ago we started putting food out on posts in the fields around the outer edges of the farm to see if we could get one interested. Slowly but surely one post was having the food taken and we began watching to see what was taking the mice, and sure enough it was a male Kestrel. The task now was to get the post closer to the farm so again slowly a bit at a time we got the post and food where we needed it. Starting with a pop up hide it took a few more weeks to get the birds used to the hide then the camera and eventually the big step to build a permanent hide.  I remember the first day in the new hide I had a fair but comfortable wait (with the heater) before the female came in, she was very cautious at first choosing to approach on the ground in the field but eventually settling on the mouse and then spending a good fifteen minutes on the perch, it’s so exciting and a really beautiful bird.

 

Kestrel 5

 

Kestrel 3

 

Kestrel 7

 

Kestrel 1

 

Kestrel 4

 

Kestrel 10

 

Kestrel 11

 

Kestrel 2

 

Kestrel 9

 

Kestrel 6

 

 


 

 

 


 

 

Kingfisher mag Mark

We are pleased to announce that Mark has got the front cover image for the first edition of a new magazine Bird Art & Photography on sale at WHSmith.  If you would like to book on one of our workshops then please visit our Hide Workshops page.