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Friday, March 7, 2014

Big brown jobbies!

Having had zero snow covering here in Munich over the winter I was beginning to consider tying a noose. Until Marcin Nawrocki put the call out in Facebook for people wanting to visit his eagle hides. Being a lone wolf it is not easy to guarantee a spot as groups tend to book early. But he had space end of February, during the school hols and my mother-in-law was coming to visit.... I booked a flight, I was in!

Now Marcin offers the whole package, hide, airport pickup, accommodation, food... you name it, you will be covered. Arriving in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness after a two hour drive with a complete stranger might seem foolhardy, but I put my trust in the many other photographers who had done the same before me.

Staying at Henry's place is part of the adventure. Henry has someone cook amazing dishes from his freezer and Henry is a hunter with alot of  freezer! He also arranges your packed lunch and hot flask for the day in the hide, which is good because trying to find food at 5am would be hard.

At 5am we are picked up by Marcin, or his partner, and taken to the hides in complete darkness. Anyone who knows about shooting shy raptors knows they should never see you entering or leaving the hide. So in complete darkness with only head torches for company we setup our equipment. On day one I was alone in the small hide while the large hide was left to two Germans, one of whom was filming for a TV documentary, with an epic amount of gear he needed all the space he could get.

First job is to turn off the gas heater, this just causes the windows to steam up and it was barely freezing while I was there. Then get tripod level for the eye level slot and beanbag setup for low level slot (Marcin requires that lenses are never moved from their hole incase of spooked eagles, so always have both lenses ready if you have two). I took both the 500 f4 IS and 200-400 1.4ext IS and was more than covered. You would be just as happy with a 300 or 400mm too. But I recommend two lenses.

The field where the hides are situated is quite flat, running down a little to the watery area in front of the hides. It offers great great views to the trees far beyond and eagles can be spotted easily (and tracked) from quite a distance. On a morning Marcin puts out fish in the icy water and other food is hidden from the camera in holes in the grass.

On the Tuesday we had anything upto 25 eagles infront of us, which is one hell of a spectacle. This does however throw up a problem when trying to shoot squabbles, heads and wings getting in the way of the action.

As the sun comes up, yes I was lucky with the weather in this regard, it illuminates eagles and wings with a wonderful golden hue. The lack of trees, houses and various other things means your subject looks amazing, which is good as most of the action is in the morning, tapering off towards lunch. Thereafter the eagles will visit and before sunset return for one last feed.

Day two Saw me in the big hide with four other photographers from Majorca. What a change from my roomy hide all alone. Now using two lenses was difficult as your tripod tends to get in the way of the lower slot. But you get used to it but I would recommend an angle finder to make using that lower camera easier.

Once darkness arrives, am i mean your 1D or D4 cannot focus at all dark, the eagles will be gone and Marcin arrives for the pickup. Depending on the mud situation it could be a short walk or hike ;) but it is never too far. Evenings are spent at the table eating red deer, wild boar or some other form of meat cooked perfectly in local dishes. The food I have to say was delicious!

I will add more shots over time, in two days I had taken a few thousand and whittling them down is not nearly as enjoyable as it should be. On day two I had the longer lens in the upper hole but the eagles were much closer to this hide so found myself with a long prime instead of a zoom. For this reason I would recommend at least three or four days in the hides so you can cover all eventualities. So many missed chances, cut wings, bums in the air... oh well, guess I need another go next winter! ;)

All in all a very friendly atmosphere with loads of eagles, a few beers and great food!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Time flies.

Wow, I have just realised i failed to update my blog since april 2013. For that I am truly sorry. Of course there is always a good reason, and that would be my lack of really great photos for the past 11 months. Over the summer I travelled to France, Corsica and the UK but could not find any suitable wildlife to shoot. So it was lanscapes. Here is one on the beach in the seaside town of Berck, France.

October we had a week in the Ebro Delta, Spain. My birthday suprise. Quite possibly a place worth visiting again, the immense rice field landscape was mostly filled with egrets and herons but I am sure in spring the migratory species are greater in number.

Autumn was so-so with a few wild boar scrounging for apples and acorns. The rut? What rut, I visited my local red deer area as often as I could but did not once hear the mighty roar of anything other than some kid on a scooter!


Then comes "winter". Over christmas period I spend a few days in Norfolk looking for barn owls, in the end looking for any bloody thing. The washout that is England at the moment must have driven most survival hungry rodents inland, away from the sodden fields and rescue boats. Yes, the ground really is that sodden.

I did though manage to find some grouse in the dales.

So I sit it out in Munich, waiting for the snow, waiting for the -20° mornings.... and still I wait. We have had the sum total of 1 inch of snow here, despite Austria getting covered in Biblical amounts. I make do with squirrels near work and in the forest.

My fridge is full of buzzard bait and will probably be full of it until next winter. A complete waist of time, almost suicidally so.

But then a Facebook friend, Marcin, put out a last call for people wanting to join him in his eagle hides... and so I was off at the end of February on a new adventure!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Damn, the snow has gone!

Yes, I took an exceptionally long time but all the snow has now gone, I weep. This year I managed many wonderful sub-zero hours in my buzzard spot and was rewarded with 5 or 6 birds who consistently came to feed, all be it later in the day :| As they have now moved on, and the foresters moved in to cut down plenty of trees, I moved too.

Back to the songbird feed for woodpeckers and the now plenty red squirrels. It has to be said that most of my reds are grey or black, but definately red. ;)

For a while I had a resident bank vole too, but he vanished and I wondered why with all the food about. Then this fellow popped his head out of the vole hole.

...and of course, it would not be spring without a bit of bambi and faline.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Winter blues

Unlike most people my winter blues begin when spring arrives. I love winter, I love waking up to a foot of snow and digging the car out. I love sitting in my hide unsure about what might happen, but knowing my forest friends may appear for the small gift of food I give. So here is my winter round-up, 2 months ago I was worried I would have little to show for my buzzard addiction, in the end I got more than I bargained for but not quite what i wanted... ho hum.

I was inundated with GSWs too.

Then this one arrived, and disappeared again

and there was always plenty of small stuff about

I thank my lucky stars that I am able to take pictures like these five minutes drive from home.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 5DmkIII, a quick review.

In short the 5DmkIII allowed me the space I needed to get stuff in the frame, where the 1.3x crop of the 1DmkIV was too much the 5DIII took over. I would love to say it is fast and amazing but the 6fps are just a touch too slow, the buffer is a touch too small and the batteries do not supply enough power to the AF module so it is not as snappy as the 1D series.

That said the AF is customisable, accurate and comprehensive. Really quite impressive, I can only dream of what the 1Dx is capable of. 6fps is probably enough for most situations but these buzzards of mine are quick and I miss having those inbetween frames you get at 10fps. But OK, the 5D AF is accurate enough to nail you important shots, the unfocussed ones are down to user error. Me basically.

I was shooting at ISO400, so I will not coment on IQ just yet but the images are full of full frame goodness and at ISO400 there is no noise to speak of.

It is a very balanced camera, at long last a 5D which is useful for more than just snaps.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Snow business

The snow persists, sometimes melting, sometimes falling but generally sticking around. Means my buzzards are still hungry. All taken with 500f4, sometimes TC, 1DIV (at least I think so)...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons learned.

This years buzzard campaign has taken some getting off the ground. First of all the foresters started cutting down trees right next to my baiting spot. Then the snow left us. Then it came back, so I started again. I built new perches, but that just meant I did not see any buzzards. One lesson learned is to setup your perches in advance, any changes to them will take time for the buzzards to get used to. They just don't trust anything.
It would be nice to have a permanent hide, but that is not possible around here, the forests are public access. Which is why I also had dog problems, I leave meat out too late in the afternoon, good chance an unruley dog will sniff it on the wind and be at it. I have remote camera images too, dog walker scratching their heads at the pile of chicks and bones. So I only leave frozen meat out now, less aroma to be carried on the wind. Which is another thing, frozen pulped up meat takes alot of hacking at, means the buzzards stay put if the block is heavy enough. When I have mice or rats, I freeze them to the block with water so they cannot be snatched.
Third lesson, stay put. I arrived and put up my Ameri-step hide at 6am. Dawn is around 7.30am. Usable light is about 8.30am. Buzzards sat in the trees all around from 8am onwards. They flew around, they sat, they squabbled over perches. But they did not feed. at 11.30 I was seriously considering a hot shower. Then came noon. Six hours I had to wait for the first buzzard, but then another three dropped down. It was quite a sight and not one I have ever witnessed, even when i had a deer carcass.
4th lesson. Get a decent hide. I now use an Ameristep hide, it is a big too tall but the camo pattern is top and the insides are painted black, blocking any visible movement inside the tent. Like I say it is a big hide, means I can put a foldaway chair in there, with a backrest... gotta get comfy if you are sitting and waiting for 6 hours at -10°C or less.
There will be more images to come, watch this space.