20 small birds are constantly on the move between a garden bush and the nearby birdhouse. Right away I can identify Great Tits (Parus major), Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), Nuthatches (Sitta europaea), Greenfinches (Chloris chloris), Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and House Sparrows (Passer domesticus). While Great Tits and Blue Tits prefer to fly to the feeder, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and House Sparrows peck at the food that has fallen on the ground. Only sometimes do they fly to the birdhouse. 3 Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) are hanging around in the background. But what was that? A bird that is significantly larger than the others lands among the songbirds, causing them to flee. I quickly got the binoculars to identify the new arrival. Its strong beak tells me that it is a Grosbeak (Coccothraustes coccothraustes). Photos of this beautiful bird have been on my photographic wish list for years, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to get a glimpse of it until now. After a moment of thought, I decided to seize the opportunity. That same day I set up the camouflage tent near the feeding area and looked forward to the hours and days ahead in the photo hide.
I use the spacious Buteo Stealth Gear 2-person camouflage tent Extreme Professional Wildlife Square Hide. And, I use the Cullmann Titan Professional CT200 tripod as a base and attach the ProMediaGear GKJR Katana Pro Aluminum Gimbal Head. I can take photos with the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens on a Canon EOS R 5. The foldable display of the Canon EOS R 5 is a real blessing. I initially set the Canon EOS R 5’s autofocus to center-weighted AF, but then switch to spot metering.
The small birds, which are surprisingly shy in the garden, took a while before they accept the camouflage tent near the feeder. This raises the question of what needs to be taken into account.
The place for a hide, a camouflage tent or perhaps even a permanent hide should be chosen carefully. When setting up your hideout in the fall, you need to consider where the sun will be in the next few months. There should also be hedges, bushes and trees nearby where the birds can retreat in case of danger.
Next, the focus is on choosing the right background. Bird feeders that are located directly in front of a heavily structured hedge are rather unsuitable. Even though the birds like to accept these places because they can approach feeding in a hidden manner. When using telephoto lenses, thin branches and twigs in the background of the image often become visible as wide stripes. The birds sometime stand out poorly against a heavily structured background. Disturbing branches, which later appear to protrude from the bodies of the birds in the picture like spears, disrupt the entire composition of the picture. Therefore, you should choose a quiet background at least for the immediate feeding area. A slightly sloping meadow, for example, would be ideal. However, you then have the problem that the seats are in the middle of the landscape and therefore appear unnatural. I’ve had good experiences with tree trunks piled up in front of a hedge or a pile of old twigs and branches. In this way, the possibility of a concealed approach for the birds has been combined to some extent with the uniform surface of the immediate background. In addition, you can attract the photo subjects to nearby branches or small trees, which are used as a “springboard” to the actual feeding area. If you offer food directly under this branch, the birds often land on the branch before hopping to the food.
It is particularly important to draw up a plan for the structural requirements for the hiding place before construction begins, so that everything necessary is taken into account during later construction. It is important that the size is adapted to the existing tripod and the optics to be used. The opening through which photographs are to be taken must be sufficiently large and positioned at the correct height. The lens should not protrude too much from the opening later. It has already proven to be useful to attach a dummy similar to the lens to the photo hatch between photo sessions. A sewer pipe from the hardware store is one idea.
In general, you should put some effort into choosing suitable perches. Upturned tree roots may appear wild, but they quickly give the viewer an unnatural impression. Visible – i.e. fresh – cut surfaces on branches should also be avoided. Always luring the feathered photo subjects onto leafless, bare branches quickly becomes boring. Leafy, colorful branches look more beautiful, but these are rare in winter. Blackberry vines with colorful winter leaves or beech branches that still have brown autumn leaves are a nice addition. They can be found everywhere. To ensure that small birds have suitable landing opportunities, part of the upright branch should be free of leaves. With a little luck and perseverance you will get good photo opportunities. As the winter progresses, it is worth looking for new and interesting alternatives to the perches and changing the branches from time to time. If you use the same branches over and over again, all the pictures will look similar.
Some species have their preferences. Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius) can be easily attracted with pieces of meat that are concealed behind the tree trunk. The grosbeak likes to fly to low-lying branches. So I offered him a root as a landing spot. Since Eurasian Blackbirds (Turdus merula) rarely sit on branches, you can attract them within photo distance with apples laid out on the ground. A well-known recipe is to lure the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) to certain places or photogenic places with peanuts in the drill holes on the side of the trunk. Sometimes you even might attracht a much rarer Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor). Traces of droppings on the needles of pine and spruce branches should always be removed. However, many small birds like to fly to branches. Last winter, a goldfinch only sat on the attached branches when the feeding bowl was full of other birds. From there he watches the rush to wait for food to be consumed. It’s not just the food intake that needs to be photographed at the feeding place. In early spring you can sometimes photograph the first mating activities of Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) at the feeding site.
While songbirds accept noises and slight movements of the lens after a few days, birds of prey such as the Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) are much more sensitive. If you want to lure these species to their hiding place, a steady hand and little movement overall are important. Red Kites (Milvus milvus), Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) or even Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) do not forgive careless panning of the camera or other movements that are visible to the animals. Scholars are still debating whether perfect camouflage with camouflage nets and branches is necessary so that the camouflage tent blends in with the surroundings. I mostly avoid it.
To meet the growing demand for top-of-the-line images of the rarer Palaearctic species, Bird-lens.com strives to expand the range of images of Western Palaearctic birds. Trips to many locations to take pictures of rare western Palearctic birds have been very successful. This nice picture of the blog is just a first impression of what you can find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Please leave a message if bird-lens.com can provide a picture.