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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!