Bird Hide Photography – The Work Behind the Scenes
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 24th July 2014 | Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog, Photography
Bird hide photography is now very well established as an almost prerequisite to an itinerary for travelling nature photographers throughout Europe and beyond. Across a growing number of photo-tour companies there is a plethora of opportunities, subjects and species which can be worked on from hides. The imagery from such innovations of course speak for the selves as they tend to show species, (often shy and secretive) illustrating exciting, intimate and awe-inspiring behaviour- all of which is of course extremely popular to both photographers and admirers of natural history photography.
The whole concept of this approach to nature photography is a huge motivation for me and I find it exciting, emotive and very rewarding. It is this kind of photography I really like to work on as I love the whole process of the assignment, from getting to know how a particular species use a certain site and planning where and if a hide will work. Just to even simply watch wildlife without them knowing you are is simply magical in itself. Then the building of a hide to suit the site and subject. Building the actual hide is just as much part of the overall gratification as the actual taking of images for me. As a time served joiner/carpenter it is a really good fit to combine these skills and knowledge of species and sites.
Some of the sites I have innovated and established have taken a few years planning and labour, you could even go as far to say ‘blood, sweat and even tears!’ (well nearly at least!) What I tend to do is build semi permanent and purpose built wooden kit hides which can be transported to site using quad and trailer, or even tractor with one of the larger more permanent hides. It has to be said of course that these have improved over the years and I have learned that shop bought ‘pop up’s’ are just not for Shetland – I call them ‘blow aways’ instead!
Two of my hides are constructed and just slide on or off trailer, like my two man diver hide and my one-man-wigwam, which is just small enough to drag/slide across moorland, but over a short back aching distance! Often there is days of work goes into each assignment in the repeated visits to move a hide over a period of weeks which is essential, especially at breeding sites.
Eventually over the past few seasons I have built a selection of hides which I can move around to suit subject and seasons and they can therefore play a very productive role in itineraries and workshops I run or collaborate on. In 2014 for example I really enjoyed working with Markus Varesvuo on Merlin, Red-throated Diver, Arctic Skua and Great Sua. I also had a film crew use my Long-tailed duck hide when we worked on ITV’s Alison Steadman’s Shetland.
Often now visiting photographers who perhaps want to do their own thing are also booking hides for exclusive use, such as the Arctic Skua and Great Skua club sites in the summer which only need a ‘walk in’. Seeing the potential in this approach to photography and photo-tours and creating a niche here in Shetland is something I have found very exciting and I am very much committed to developing these assignments further and working on other species and seasons.
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Sunday 14th December 2008 | Birding in Shetland, Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog
For any aspiring rarity finder or indeed British lister, Ivory gull must be one of those birds that feature highly on every ones winter wish list. It had for me personally become something of a mythical dream bird. Like so many birders up and down the country, for over twenty years I have searched the beaches round my local patch, Fetlar, for a seal or a cetacean carcase to steak out in the optimistic hope of it luring in one of these mega Arctic larads.
This year I decided to push my optimism and enthusiasm (desperation) levels a little further by actually ‘baiting’ a beach. After some thought I decided that the north- west tip of the island at Odsta, facing Bluemull sound, was as good a bet as any for a ‘coasting’ Arctic scavenger, hoping that from here a bird may be lured in from nearby islands of Yell and Unst too.
In mid November gales and snow from the north and north-east was forecast, ideal conditions and timing for an Ivory gull I and I’m sure many others thought. I gathered together some sheep remains and left them well above the tide line- days later one was found in ‘Shetlands big smoke’, Lerwick! To the disappointment of many, myself included the Lerwick sighting was all too brief and was only seen by one observer.
Over 30 miles out with my choice of site but out of the 1,600 miles of Shetland coastline, Fetlar was all ways going to be my first choice, especially as the species was long overdue for the island list. Over the next week or so I added more sheep remains, checking the site as often as I could. On the 14th of December, after not having checked or added more bait for over a week, I, almost routinely, parked up my car above the old slipway, next to my tiny chosen bait beach. A dozen or so ‘into the wind’ strides later, my legs ceased to stride and instead began to shake as a numbing surge of adrenalin either left or entered my body (in those circumstances I always find it hard to tell which!) at a stupendous rate, less than 40 feet away from me sat on the rocks was a 1st winter Ivory gull!! My legs maybe felt like they were not working but my voice certainly was not, probably best if I pretend it wasn’t though and leave out the chosen words! A long awaited new species, for myself and the island.
Strangely, there was nothing left of my bait, although there was a newly washed ashore sheep carcass, which it paid no attention to. It seemed very settled in and around that little area only on a couple of occasions did it fly off a short distance along the coast, never even out of site. It being Sunday and ferries on winter timetable only three birders made it in so in a bid to keep it there, at least till next day, I decided to raid the freezer, hoping to find last summers Mackerel or Pollock. A side of Shetland smoked salmon was all I could find, to offer it some of the finest of Shetlands gourmet delights was the least I could do!
For the rest of that day it gorged itself on the salmon at regular intervals, seemingly too much so as when I tried to offer it fresh fish remains (skate and whiting) the next day it completely ignored it! This is probably quite typical of the species though as they are probably used to going for days without food between polar bear kills and other preferred food sources, the cullonary delights of the isles, I suspect might not be so redily available up there!