Magazine article Geographical

Flying Visits: With Birds Flocking to the British Isles in Their Hundreds of Thousands from the Frozen North and Moulting into Their Winter Plumage, Now's the Time to Grab Your Camera and Head for the Nearest Hide

Magazine article Geographical

Flying Visits: With Birds Flocking to the British Isles in Their Hundreds of Thousands from the Frozen North and Moulting into Their Winter Plumage, Now's the Time to Grab Your Camera and Head for the Nearest Hide

Article excerpt

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The British Isles are a favourite wintering destination for hundreds of thousands of birds flying south from Scandinavia, Siberia and other parts of the Arctic. And Britain is home to dozens of large nature reserves and wetlands set aside for these birds, as well as the conservation of local species. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more than 150 reserves, while the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust runs nine visitor centres, including one in West London.

Many reserves are equipped with well-appointed hides, which become hives of activity as binoculars, spotting scopes and long camera lenses are deployed to get closer views--and pictures--of birds feeding, preening and flying.

Winter also marks the time when birds moult, revealing a more colourful plumage, particularly in males. This combination of colour, new arrivals, increased numbers, mating and feeding makes this the most rewarding time of the year for the seasoned wildlife photographer.

IDEAL EQUIPMENT

Of course, you don't have to travel to a designated nature reserve to enjoy bird photography. Even a small urban garden is capable of attracting enough species to warrant a closer inspection. A digital SLR is the ideal camera, but you should be prepared to put your money into a decent telephoto zoom lens to shoot from a distance that keeps you out of sight of your subject. A lens with a focal range of around 200-500 millimetres is ideal, preferably with some form of image stabilisation technology if your camera doesn't possess such a facility. These systems reduce the chances of image blur caused by camera shake, although the best means of averting this outcome is to use some sort of camera or lens support, typically a tripod or monopod. Another option is a beanbag, resting on a windowsill to support the weight of a long lens. As well as being lightweight and low cost, a beanbag is extremely portable, versatile, and very effective.

Although building a hide isn't a practical option in most urban gardens, shooting through the windowpane from inside your home most certainly is--just remember to clean the glass. As well as improving the clarity of the image in the viewfinder, it will also prevent your camera's autofocus from locking on to a dirty mark.

Feeders hanging from branches are low-cost additions to the garden that will soon attract common species such as robins, blackbirds and blue tits, depending On the type of feed you lay out. Alternatively, scattering seed will attract ground feeders, giving you the Opportunity to compose more natural looking pictures without feeders featuring prominently in the frame.

Providing a plentiful supply of food in the winter will ensure that birds will return regularly, allowing you to observe their movements, flight paths and perches. By studying their behaviour, you'll be able to anticipate the type of images that are possible and think about composition before your favoured subject has flown into place. This is what many wildlife photographers mean when they use the term 'pre-visualisation'--seeing the picture in their head before the opportunity arises.

SEABIRD COLONIES

Not all bird photography is about waiting patiently in a hidden position. Many birds have seasonal roosts or favoured nesting sites to which they return year after year, but a journey to these locations will generally result in making your presence all too obvious. Not only will your presence cause distress to the bird, but it will also trigger an attack, usually involving a well-directed discharge of guano. …

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