Over the years I’ve found there’s not a greater reward than capturing wildlife on your doorstep without the need to travel miles. So a few months ago I decided to start to create a feeding station for garden birds in an area of local private woodland. Something to do in my spare time over the winter and an idea I’ve always wanted to do, I think it’ll be a great idea not only to feed and look after our feathered friends over the colder months of the year when they need it most, but also to get some good shots of them – win/win. The aim from the start was to make good images accessible purely by the creating a mini habitat using all natural materials in which would make them easier to take photos of and in turn; make the images look extremely natural and print worthy. These would all be shot from a portable hide which I’d sit in (when I had some spare time) which I’ve positioned facing north to face away of any weather conditions, but also the birds would always be in the best light from the sun. Also, as always the best wildlife images don’t have distracting backgrounds so I’ve made sure there’s a good empty space of ground behind where the station is located, this way the background foliage will be blurred into mush using those wide apertures.
Having seen how other people build up feeding stations for certain birds I set to work using an old table feeder I made years back, dug up some nearby moss and laid it on top. Looks very odd I must admit but this can be a great ground setting once cropped into a bird portrait.
Around the table I’ve made a tangle of of old branches not only to provide good looking photographic perches but also to hang the conventional feeders to attract the birds. After stocking up the station food I stuck up my trail cam on a nearby tree so I can keep an eye on what visitors came to it. My aim is to capture Woodpeckers & some Jays that have been spotted locally along with the usual garden birds.
I’ll keep this post updated over the winter as and when I have some free time to sit in the hide for a few hours and hopefully capture some worthy images.
Update - 11th December 2012 - click to open
Finally had some free time to put in some hours in the hide. As said previous the local Jay is one of my main subjects to capture as they can be very skittish and elusive, but extremely beautiful and striking. Thankfully after some frequent stocking up with peanuts they’re (a pair) starting to come to the table and I managed to grab some shots.
Silent shutter on the 5D Mark III is great for this as they are a bit flitty with the normal shutter sound. The images are not quite what I’m after with where the bird is stood & light, but a good start none the less – another idea I had whilst sitting there is not only capturing some nice portraits but also catching some birds in flight, something that is much harder but eventually show everyday subjects in a more different and interesting view.
Update - 12th December 2012 - click to open
Another session in the hide and this time I had some lovely sun light, really helped with the shutter speeds so tried out some action shots.
I then saw some commotion in the distant bushes and it was this young lady
Very heavy crop, but you can clearly see it’s a Sparrowhawk – obviously wanting using my feeding station as a fast food outlet. Oddly enough it’s also got a silver ring on it’s leg, unfortunately not good enough resolution to read the number. Another hour passed with the brief visit of the Jay, not long enough to get a decent image of and then I heard the recognisable call of a GSW (Great Spotted Woodpecker) land in the tree behind the hide. Thankfully it made a visit and stayed for quite some time feeding on the fat balls.
A good result for a few hours work, can’t wait to get back down there when there’s some better weather and light.[/box]
Update - 15th December 2012 - click to open
A bit of maintenance this afternoon with a slight hide position adjustment for better out of focus wash background and also a complete renewal of the moss covered table to keep it looking fresh. The usual suspects (tits, robin, dunnock, blackbird and squirrel) have now got used to this being a regular source of food which means it’s working. Had another visit from Miss Great Spotted Woodpecker who’s now learnt how to use my makeshift tree prop for finding peanuts.
A pretty dismal afternoon with ISOs topping 2000 and shutter speeds down to around 1/200 which isn’t ideal, but thankfully the Jay made an appearance and is now used to seeing the hide and the occasional shutter sound going off.
It was going through peanuts really fast, must of stored a good twenty plus in it’s crop before flying off to cache in the nearby ground and return doing the same several times over.
Update - 31st January 2013 - click to open
Well it’s the new year, and I’ve finally got a chance to do another session in the hide. After all the recent rain yesterday was a lovely sunny day (but very windy). Still didn’t deter the birds! There’s some tweaks to the station with renewed table moss and a new sunflower hearts feeder to hopefully bring in some different species (which thankfully it has!) Also a re-positioned (away from the squirrel’s reach) peanut feeder with the addition of some nice mossy branches I borrowed from a nearby “bearded” tree.
After a blustery three and a half hours in the cold yesterday and eight hundred odd images, here’s a selection of the best and as always click to enlarge.
New arrivals with some lovely Greenfinches:
They’re quite grumpy when it comes to table manners! (don’t usually like shots on feeders but no choice with this sequence)
Usual Blue & Great Tits made an appearance including some lovely Long-Tailed Tits, basically balls of fluff with a tail sticking out the end! They go around in little groups and saw about 5 on the fat balls on one occasion.
Then a suprise visit from some Jackdaws & the Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Then a big suprise a Goldfinch turned up for the sunflower hearts, thought I’d need to buy some Nyjer seeds for these fellas but not so. One of my fave images from the session.
and last but not least the Jay turned up; flew straight at the hide and was on the ground about five feet away! Was happy for me to snap away so just goes to show with the hide in situe for the last few months it’s really got used to it being there whether someone’s in it or not 🙂 Gave me a good opportunity to capture the amazing feathers and colour markings on the wing tips.
Over the next few sessions I think I’ll focus on trying to get more smaller birds in flight. I’ll need some good light to get the shutter speeds high and it’s going to take a lot of duff shots and trial & error though but hopefully will come away with some interesting images. Fingers crossed!
Update - 21st March 2013 - click to open
Been having a go at catching my garden birds in flight, limited time to sit in the hide and inclement weather has made it tricky to get enough light to push the shutter speeds high enough without the need for high ISO to freeze the action. Here’s a few images that are “nearly theres” from an hours session yesterday. The first one being the sharpest of the set
Will keep trying til I get some better/sharper poses
Update - 28th March 2013
As you can see above there’s a new perch installed at the feeding station. The table has been removed temporarily and a new mossy branch installed to the left of the other one. The right one has little crevices stuffed full of peanuts to entice the birds to land on it. The new left one is just there to provide a nice perch for hopefully the Woodpecker or Jay. Both have been purposely positioned at the perfect height so when shooting from the hide there’s no distracting backgrounds other than a nice clean out of focus grass. (feeders are movable)
It’s very tricky trying to catch the incoming birds in flight – first there’s a pre-focus on the stump, then a manual adjustment to focus slightly behind the stump as the birds never approach perfectly perpendicular – this is very trial and error! Also I need really good sunlight as even with the settings I’m using which I believe to be the perfect trade off between freezing the action, resulting depth of field and visible noise it’s still only giving me just over 3cm of in focus depth of field at this shooting distance; using this camera and the focal length. On top of that, there’s judging when the bird is ‘in the zone’ and after it all, the wing position and ‘Does it make a pretty picture?’ There’s a lot of duff shots, but sometimes I get lucky and here’s two I’m happy with below from a very very cold three hours in the hide today – much sharper than the last set.