Wildlife Photography Experiences Review by Andrew Cameron
I have now used WPE twice, once to visit a Kestrel hide in Dorset and the second time was a Sparrowhawk hide in Dumfries and Galloway. I paid £79 and £80 respectively. Booking was relatively straightforward using their website, although if you book using PayPal you will get three emails that all essentially say you’ve paid.
What I found frustrating was that there were no contact details for the person you would be meeting on the day; and the instructions for meeting were not included in the email, which meant referring back to the website. When booking several weeks in advance I would have found it helpful to have been able to make contact to confirm arrangements a day or two before because, as I found out, when the person you are meeting is running late you have no alternative but to wait or go home again.
My first WPE visit was to the Kestrel hide in May and a few days before my scheduled booking Chris Ashurst, who runs the hide, called to say that because the female was on the nest we should postpone, which we did. A few weeks later I met Chris on a glorious Saturday morning and followed him to a working organic farm where he had installed a nest box the previous year that was now occupied by a female and her three chicks.
The photographic set-up was next the barn on a grassed area with farm buildings adjoining. The hide was a pop-up that was set-up about 25ft from two perches that had been installed with hollow tops for placing and securing bait. The hide itself was fine for one person and although a folding stool was provided, if my own chair had been in the car I would have made use of it. Once Chris had secured the bait to the posts he handed me a bag of dead chicks and cable ties to re-bait the perches; as it happens I was fine with this but some people might be squeamish.
The female Kestrel came to the perches within minutes, making regular trips back and forth to the nest for the next two hours before being joined by the male who she tried her best to see-off. For a bird that was showing well and in good lighting conditions the shots I was able to take were fairly limited: the two perches were almost identical and the background was essentially the same. Shots in flight were difficult because the bird approached from the direction of nest which was at a right-angle to the hide; the result was the bird either came from the side or from behind the hide most of the time, out of the blue.
By lunchtime the female had stopped visiting and was instead keeping watch from the top of one the farm buildings and the male was hunting from up high in the fields behind. I'd managed to get 100+ shots throughout the morning and left feeling that I had received value for money, although I probably hadn't tested my photographic skills.
My second WPE experience was in June whilst holidaying in the Galloway Forest area. After an aborted first attempt, I met an apologetic Alan McFayden at lunchtime and followed him to a lay-by where we parked and walked into woods across the road. Alan rents the land and has had hides installed for many years. The set-up is in a clearing with a gentle slope leading up to trees in the background. There were three hides each big enough for two people and the one I was in had a couple of comfortable swivel chairs. I used a tripod but actually a bean bag might have been better and provided more flexibility.
The set-up itself is essentially a woodland hide with numerous logs, trees, and branches for perches. The feeders were full and the area baited, which attracted Siskins, Chaffinches, Redpolls, Jays, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers throughout my time there. Three perches were baited for the Sparrowhawk and once again I was given more bait to use if needed. As it happened they weren't needed.
I'd been in the hide for about 3 hours when a male Sparrowhawk swooped in and went straight to a perch. However, within minutes he was being mobbed by a Red Kite (they have been re-introduced to the Galloway Forest area and are doing very well). The kite came down a second time and was about to circle back for a third when the Sparrowhawk decided he'd had enough and took off. It was all very exciting to watch but the size of the kite versus the length of my lens meant that I couldn't capture any of it, although I did manage about half a dozen shots when the poor Sparrowhawk wasn't being mobbed.
I remained in the hide for about 4.5 hours in total. The Sparrowhawk did return but only to swoop in and take a Chaffinch! It was great to get the Sparrowhawk but I was just as happy seeing a family of Jays coming back and forth during the afternoon, not to mention the Red Deer and her fawn who wandered down the slope in the background.