Into the Woods

In early autumn I started a new project at a little wood close to where I live. My first step was to contact the landowner and then explore the location to see if it had potential. The main considerations being, possible subjects, light, and backgrounds. On my first visit I was pleased to see lots of wildlife and found a clearing that would be well lit throughout the day.

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I started by making some squirrel proof feeders and set these up close to a dense hedge that bordered the woodland. The hedge had a little hollow in it and this was sculpted into a snug natural hide. The most important function of a hide is to disguise the human form, with shelter and comfort being secondary needs.

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Over the following weeks I visited the site regularly to maintain the feeders and spent some time observing the activity from a distance. The action was hectic with all the usual suspects coming in, but no sign of the Nuthatches and woodpeckers that were my target species. I knew these birds were about as I had seen and heard them so assumed they were still finding natural food.

A few days later I decided to try an evening session, mostly out of curiosity, as I wanted to see what would turn up. The light was good and the autumnal leaves on trees beyond the feeding area created a very pleasant background. I was barely in the hide when a gang of smaller birds descended on the feeders and soon I heard the distinctive ‘kek’ of a woodpecker.

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I like to be prepared so invested some time making natural perches from wind fallen trees. I will either excavate an existing hole, or drill a new one to hide some food. If this is done correctly the hole will be barely visible in the final image.

I kept the feeders topped up but there was still no sign of my favourite bird, the Nuthatch, which I had never photographed locally. This is were persistence is required and mine was rewarded a week later when a very handsome Nutty appeared in my viewfinder; it’s amazing how quickly they find the hidden food.

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The hide faces north into the woods and this allowed me to make the most of the low winter sun; especially at the beginning and end of the day. I like to start projects with ideas for images I want to make but try to be open to new opportunities as they arise. The Nuthatch became more accustomed to my presence and I was able to leave the hide and shoot back towards the light. I wanted to create an abstract picture capturing the shape of the bird in classic pose and this was achieved by heavily underexposing the scene to leave just a trace of rim light.

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One of the main goals for this project was to improve on my winter portfolio and the colder weather gave me some nice encounters with a variety of subjects including a stunning male Bullfinch. The shot below was another I had pre-visualised and on this occasion I used two stops of positive exposure compensation to create a high key scene.

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I have now started to fade out the feeding at this site as the weather warms and the birds natural food becomes easier to find. My simple hide has been very effective and I hope it will give me more opportunities next autumn.