Although bird photography can be a very rewarding activity, it can also be frustrating.
Your attempts to get a perfect shot can often be spoilt by visual obstructions like branches, or distracting backgrounds like buildings or litter, or just the long distance between you and your target bird.
Then there may be noisy dogs or unruly children to contend with (...or vice versa).
This weekend we were lucky enough to visit Millers Wood, which is privately owned by Sussex photographer John Stanton. John bought the 3 acre wood almost two years ago and has been very busy clearing the area of non-native trees & shrubs, and building photographic hides.
John has a dream of creating a place where like-minded photographers can practice their craft and maybe take prize winning pictures of birds and other flora & fauna.
an English safari camp
Although John has only been the proud owner of Millers Wood for less than two years, he has already prepared much of the site by removing some trees to allow more light in, and has started a program of replanting some areas in order to attract butterflies and other interesting insect and animal species.
This site is remote, and does not have general services like electricity and running water. But John has constructed 6 timber bird hides, a "kitchen" and a toilet hut.
Although the loo is not an authentic African long-drop, the timber buildings and their remote location puts me in mind of a safari camp.
The "kitchen" is really a simple, timber built lounge where guests can sit and eat their picnic lunch, boil water for tea or coffee, and warm themselves by the wood-burner on chilly days.
Each hide faces an area of interest that John has constructed to allow great views of visiting birds. Although we were there for 6 hours, time goes really quickly when you are engrossed in photography, so I only made use of 2 of the 6 hides, before it was suddenly time to go home!
I spent the morning in one hide with my 3 colleagues, and much of the afternoon in a second hide.
So this was our first hide;
|photo taken with wide-angle lens, so hide looks much further away from "stage" than it really is|
...the "stage" (shown on the right of the picture above) is about eye-level when viewed from inside the hide, and is only about 3m away.
With the rear door closed and the Jack Pyke net curtains down, the birds don't really notice you. Even talking quietly, or the click of SLR shutters does not seem to worry them.
The stage is set with concealed bird food (i.e. concealed from the direct view of the camera). And because the birds have played this game before, they soon arrive to feed.
John also encourages users to do much of the work themselves, such as arrange props and bait the stage in order to get the desired results.
|We get great spotted woodpeckers visiting our garden, but I have never seen so many in one place at the same time.|
Its not only the birds that take to the stage to feed;
The second hide, that I made use of during the afternoon, is a specially built reflection pool;
|The view looking back towards the hide. You cant see in through those curtains!|
Looking out from inside the hide;
|Once again this is using a 10mm wide angle. The distance to the far bank is probably only 4-5m|
Although the main feature of this hide is the reflection pool, I just concentrated on the birds arriving on the 2 upright wood stumps;
|Pentax K-30 with Pentax DA 55-300mm ED at 260mm, F7.1, 1/400s, ISO 400.|
|This robin has a curiously curved upper beak|
|Marsh tit or Willow tit?|
At Millers Wood, visitor numbers are strictly limited, as John would like everyone to have a great experience, which could easily be compromised by having too many people on site at the same time.
On the day of our visit, there were 4 in our group, plus 2 others. I was amazed that I didn't see the other 2 people all day, until we were all in the lane, loading cars in preparation for the drive home.
John is happy to offer advice to photographers of all levels, or just leave you to get on with the business of taking pictures.
Millers wood is a valuable and [possibly] unique location for photographers in the south of England.
More info on the website: http://www.johnstantonphotography.co.uk/