Project – Chair Hide

Just before Christmas – when I was convinced that my break would be filled with lots of cold, bright days ideal for photography – I bought myself a chair hide. I’ve wanted to try to be able to get nearer to our garden birds for a while now in order to get some close up shots, but no matter how still I sit they are very hesitant to come close.

The chair hide looks like this – it comprises a camping chair with a cover that you pull up and over yourself and various windows which can be unzipped to stick your camera lens through. After use it folds down and comes in a bag for storage, making it compact enough to store in the garage.

My dream one day would be to have a garden big enough to have a permanent hide set up, but until then this seemed like a good compromise.

As it turned out, the weather over the holidays was awful for photography. For most of the fortnight the UK was blanketed with a thick layer of cloud making the days very dull and the light levels too low to capture any good images. We had one bright day at the beginning of January so as soon as possible I headed out to the garden to try out the hide.

I set up the hide a couple of metres away from a feeder hook that the Robin uses to perch on. To try to see if I could encourage some other species to come and perch I used masking tape and electrical tape to fix a small box of suet pellets and mealworms to the end of the hook. Not very pretty, but this session was more about seeing if the hide worked.

And work it did! I’d sited the hide almost directly underneath one of our hanging feeders, and within minutes I heard the flapping of wings and realised that there was a bird using the feeder right above my head!

Before long the birds caught sight of the box of treats and I had quite a few visitors, both on the feeder hook and perching in the Cotoneaster bush behind.

Getting this close allowed me to notice that this Coal Tit has a deformed beak – the upper mandible is overgrown and curved over, and the lower one seems to be longer than normal too.

The beak should look more like the Blue Tit’s beak above. I posted this picture on Twitter and a follower let me know that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ask for records of birds sighted with this type of deformity as part of their Big Garden Beakwatch Project. They say that birds with this type of deformity are reasonably rare, with about 1 in 200 birds being affected, but they are keen to discover more about the causes.

I’ve since submitted my record and the photos and if you see a similar bird you can submit yours HERE

I was out in the garden for about an hour, and this was enough to realise that there is great potential for using this little hide.  I’m now working on creating a better feeding platform to use with it and am looking forward to being able to take some really close photos of our smaller garden birds.

A visit to Burtonwood Nature Park

A while ago I stumbled across a page for a place called Burtonwood Nature Park on Facebook.  The photos on the page looked amazing, with loads of different bird species present on site.  I bookmarked it sometime earlier this year and resolved to visit.

I finally made it during the last week in November.  The site is a small nature reserve, looked after by volunteers who have set up feeding stations and hides from which to photograph the birds.

I made my way to a hide within the woodland and settled in.  Before long the first birds appeared, as well as the perches set up around the hides there are plenty of trees for the birds to perch in.

IMG_0473-1IMG_0622-1IMG_0815-1

I was particularly happy to see Chaffinches and to be able to photograph them close up for the first time – they aren’t a visitor to our garden, sadly.

IMG_0745-1

IMG_0743-1.jpg

And also Coal Tits.  These tiny birds are a frequent visitor to the garden, but they are so fast I am never able to photograph them there.  One moment they are on the feeder, and within an instant they are gone – normally before I even get a chance to focus my camera!  Here I was able to capture them perching on the surrounding branches before and after visiting the feeder.

IMG_0566-1IMG_0577-1IMG_0705-1

I’ve always been intrigued by this behaviour which I’ve seen being performed by both Coal Tits and Blue Tits, where they retreat to nearby branches to eat a seed plucked from the feeder rather than swallowing it down straight away.  They often seem to hold the food between their feet and eat it in small bits.

IMG_0726-1.jpg

I was also thrilled to see Tree Sparrows for the first time.  Their House Sparrow cousins are frequent visitors to the garden and are one of my favourite birds.

IMG_0832-1IMG_0834-1

While I was concentrating mainly on the bird activity in the trees around the hide, there was plenty of activity on the feeding station itself and on the woodland floor.

IMG_0526-1IMG_0686-1IMG_0794-1

But the biggest treat was still to come – a Greater Spotted Woodpecker made multiple visits.

IMG_0605-1IMG_0651-1

All in all I had a wonderful couple of hours here and will definitely be visiting again.

For more details about Burtonwood Nature Park, visit their Facebook page here.

I also follow two local photographers who are regular visitors (and I think volunteers) to the park.  Their pages are well worth a visit too – Allan Mason  and Iain Lenton

Red Squirrels at Hawes – December 2018

Once again time has flown by and it’s over a month since my last entry! I have a few queued up to write and meant to do these through December, however my plans were somewhat derailed by work being completely crazy in the run up to finishing for the Christmas break.

In early December I did manage to get away for the day to Yorkshire for a day photographing Red Squirrels. I’ve always wanted to try taking photographs by a reflection pool – a large but shallow pool of water that allows for wonderful reflections. They can be set up at home, but unfortunately my garden is far too small to set one up here – although that plus a hide would definitely be my dream scenario!

Luckily, dotted around the country are several hides available to hire which already have pools set up. Even more luckily, the one nearest to me in North Yorkshire also happens to be in a woodland which is home to one of my favourite species – Red Squirrels!

IMG_1116-1.jpg

My day in the hide duly booked, I left the house at what seemed like the middle of the night – actually 6 in the morning – to embark on the 2 hour drive over to the meeting point in Hawes. The omens didn’t look too promising for the day ahead – as I drove across the Pennines thick fog came down and as soon as that cleared it was quickly followed by drizzly but persistent rain. All the same, the drive was really enjoyable with the dawn breaking over some beautiful scenery as I made my way through Yorkshire. Even better was the sight of two hunting Barn Owls, a Little Owl and a Stoat running across the road!

The weather brightened as I met up with Paul who owns the site, and we made our way over to the hides. They are ideally located just a few minutes drive outside Hawes, and within no time I was settled into the reflection pool hide.

Before long the squirrels arrived – but unfortunately so did the rain, meaning that I was only able to get a couple of shots with reflections as there was just too much disturbance on the top of the water.

IMG_0995-1

IMG_1194-1

It continued to rain torrentially for much of the rest of the day. Even though I wasn’t able to take the shots I went for, I love some of the photos that I took on the day. They certainly reflect the conditions and tell a story.

IMG_9524-1.jpg

Some of the squirrels looked seriously bedraggled at points.

IMG_1657-1.jpg

IMG_1165-1

And I was treated to a couple of instances of something that I never thought I’d see – swimming squirrels! On several occasions squirrels managed to knock hazelnuts into the pool and went chasing into the water to retrieve them. They had no hesitation in chasing right into the water – until roughly halfway across the pool where they seemed to lose their nerve and beat a hasty retreat back to shore. At which point they had to wait until the nut floated back to the side of the pool before finally claiming their prize!

IMG_9362-1

IMG_9370-1

IMG_9372-1

There were usually 4 or 5 squirrels around the hide at any one time and they came so close – even running across the front of the hide on several occasions and stopping to have a closer look at me!

IMG_9186-1

IMG_9562-1

As well as the squirrels, a variety of woodland birds were also frequent visitors to the pool giving me the chance to photograph them too.

IMG_1292-1

IMG_1458-1

IMG_9544-1

IMG_9258-1

As the afternoon rolled on and the light started to drop, sadly it was time to leave. A sign of just how much it had rained came when we passed what had been a small stream in the morning, which was now a raging torrent as water flowed down from the hills. All the same, I’d had a brilliant time and will definitely be visiting the hides again in pursuit of some better weather and those ever elusive reflection shots!

IMG_9352-1.jpg

The hide I used can be booked here through Paul Fowlie Photography.

Garden Sparrowhawk

We’ve had the first hard frost of the season overnight – Winter is most definitely on it’s way!  I’m off work this week, and when I blearily glanced out of the kitchen window this morning while refilling my coffee cup, I was in for a bit of a surprise.  There on the lawn was a beautiful female Sparrowhawk, tucking into her breakfast.

IMG_0419-1.jpg
Terrible photo I know, but it was quickly taken through the patio doors so that I could ID the bird!!

I have such mixed feelings about this one – after all, I feed these small birds and love seeing them visit the garden, so I think naturally I am quite protective of them.  It’s hard to see them die.  However, the Sparrowhawk needs a meal too and has no other option.  Also, it gives me confidence that the garden is becoming a good little eco-system in it’s own right – once predators start arriving it shows that there is a sustainable population of the prey species.

I’m not familiar with birds of prey, so once I’d grabbed this picture I booted up my laptop to try and identify it.  I quickly learned that ‘it’ was in fact a she, a Sparrowhawk – and a youngster, signified by the white patches on her back.

She’s definitely not something I expected to see this morning, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her as the Winter draws in.

 

A Bumper Weekend for Wildlife!

The weather’s starting to turn colder and distinctly Autumnal now. We’ve got a crop of fungi flourishing on the lawn and raking and sweeping fallen leaves into piles as homes for hibernating wildlife is becoming a regular job.

With a weekend at home ahead of me, I decided to spend some time doing some wildlife focused jobs in the garden, and to put cameras out for as much of the weekend as possible to capture our garden visitors. For once my timing was spot on and I picked a great weekend to do this!

Bird Table Trail Camera

I recently bought some new trail cameras, as the original two became faulty and had to be returned. I chose the Browning Strike Force HD model from Wildview Cameras (https://www.wildviewcameras.co.uk). All of my recent Fieldmouse footage has been filmed using these, and I’m so pleased with the image quality. I’ve been eager to have an opportunity to try them out properly during the day, so with the addition of a +3 close up filter to allow focus at a distance of 33cm I set one up on the bird table and left it there for a few hours each morning.

Instead of video I tried out the photo mode – I set the camera to take 5 photos each time it sensed movement. I’m so pleased with the results, I can see I’ll be doing this a lot over the colder months.

Yesterday was a lovely bright day and the resulting image quality is just superb. Today conditions were a little more testing, being dull and quite dark for most of the day, but I’m still really pleased with the results.

Squirrel Feeder Pole

We’ve been plagued by the murderous cat again, and after one particularly horrible incident where he killed a baby squirrel, we were keen to put up a feeder that would allow squirrels to access it without crossing open ground. So I’ve put this one up by the hedge, which will allow them to get to it from hedging and trees rather than from the ground.

My Naturewatch Raspberry Pi Cam

Featured earlier this year on BBC Springwatch, My Naturewatch is software which allows you to build a basic wildlife camera using a Raspberry Pi. I’ve been keen to have a go, so ordered a kit containing all the necessary components from Pimoroni (available here).

The only other bits I had to add were a USB power bank and a plastic food box to form the outer casing. The kit was pretty easy to make and tool about an hour and a half – most of which was waiting for the software to download as our internet seemed to be on a go slow yesterday. But soon the kit was ready to go –

I actually ended up buying two kits, one contains a daylight camera and this one which contains a night vision one.

I put it inside the hedgehog feeder last night, as I hoped to get some closer up shots of our Fieldmouse. I need to do some work on positioning to find the best vantage point as there’s not much room inside the hedgehog feeder, but the results did not disappoint. I can see me having some fun with this little camera.

More about the My Naturewatch project and instructions for building the cameras can be found here – https://mynaturewatch.net.

Hedgehog Visitor

Of course the night that I fill the hedgehog feeder up with a camera box is the evening that the hedgehog returned! I saw one cross the road at the front of the house earlier this week so knew there was one around, but I couldn’t believe it when I checked the garden camera this morning and saw that one had been happily scurrying around the lawn for a good 3 hours last night.

As always, I have my fingers firmly crossed that this one sticks around! We think one hibernated here last Winter so it would be lovely if this one did likewise.

All in all, an incredible wildlife-filled weekend!