Le Chameau wellingtons
I originally wrote this piece two years ago but, since many who read this were not following the blog back then, I thought this would interest you.
A little over 3 years ago, I fulfilled an ambition I had held for years, to photograph common buzzards in the wild, in Kent. Why? Well, up until 10 years ago they were quite a rare sight around these parts (North Downs) but over the years they have moved further and further east to a point that it’s now unusual not to see one while out on the hills. There are now close to a thousand pairs in Kent and I personally know of 3 nests which I am dying to work on over the coming years.
OK, so they are incredibly common in the west and north and hardly magnificent golden eagles but there is just something about them. The way they soar, their call…….. As I visited my woodland birds feeding station over the years or, indeed, sat in the hide photographing them, the desire would burn deeper and deeper to photograph this beautiful bird. I am privileged to have access to a lot of land within their territory and so, the previous October, decided to commit the following 4-5 months to this project. But everything, and I mean everything, had to be by the book. Birds of prey are notoriously shy and keen-eyed birds so, unlike a blue tit at a nut feeder, where you can come and go from your hide without them so much as batting an eyelid, with buzzards, in this part of the world, not a chance!
The following was then carried out.
* 5′ sq wooden hide erected (adjacent to a hedge to break up it’s outline) under cover of darkness, so buzzards didn’t associate it with humans.
* Stockpile of road-kill rabbits stored in freezer. Thanks Martina!
* Continue and wait for hard weather to commence photography.
* Hide left alone for several weeks.
* December. Once a week. Rabbit put down pre-dawn in front of hide. At night, if rabbit not devoured by birds, was taken and put up a tree to stop foxes taking it. Put back down following morning…….
In mid January we had hard frosts lasting a couple of weeks so I took the opportunity to get some shots. I entered the hide 2 hours before sunrise. 11 hours later one arrived and fed but the light was poor. It got terribly cold in the hide, very rarely going above freezing. I would, occasionally, ignite the stove for a few minutes, wrap a blanket around me and wear a balaclava. Winter, neoprene lined boots made by Le Chameau helped keep my feet warm (though they froze after 5 hours). I firmly believe in making yourself as comfortable as possible, since the more comfortable you are, the longer you will wait and the more likely you are of getting the shot. I tried, again, a few days later and this time one appeared in good light but something was missing….snow!
Then, at the end of January we had a substantial dumping with poor visibility, lasting for several days. I needed a break in the weather to entice the buzzard’s from where they had been sheltering from the terrible weather. I then had the forecast I’d been waiting for. A clear day, blue sky all the way. Perfect! This would surely tempt them out to look for food. I got everything ready the night before and woke at 3. With all the snow I knew it was going to be tough driving and there was no guarantee that I would even reach the hide. I gingerly made my way to the spot where I needed to park the car but first there was a hill to get up. I had a bit of a run-up but the Mondeo only made it half way. Four attempts later it got me to the top. I now have a 4×4! When I reached the hide, there was over 18 inches of snow. I staked the rabbit down (this is to avoid it being carried off), set everything up in the hide, took snacks out of wrappers (to avoid noise) and sat back, waiting for light and, finger’s crossed, buzzards.
Then, at about 10 o clock, one arrived and fed for over 30 minutes. It took my breath away to be this close (15m) and knowing that all the hard work had not been to avail. The low perspective was achieved by attaching a tripod head to a piece of MDF with tent pegs pushed into the ground with the lens protruding through a nurses-sleeve about 6 inches above the ground. I attached one-way mirror film to small perspex panels at eye-level so I could see clearly outside without being seen.
Several hours passed and then an immature bird turned up and, just like the one previous, spent around 30 minutes feeding, oblivious to the photographer who, at this point, was the happiest man on the planet! Several hours passed and then an immature bird turned up and, just like the one previous, spent around 30 minutes feeding, oblivious to the photographer who, at this point, was the happiest man on the planet!
The video, below, was taken using my point-and-shoot compact camera so please excuse the rather poor quality.
All images were taken using a Nikon D2x with 300mm f2.8 and 1.4x converter (sometimes without) with right-angle finder attached. I ached for days having spent several hours with my head between my legs peering through this!
Of all the projects I have undertaken, this has certainly been the toughest but without question the most satisfying. Hamilton Holt’s quote comes to mind….”Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work , is the only way to accomplish results that last.” But, why do they have to be so strenuous!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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