After an unusual amount of time spent in hides, both public and private, this summer, I am appalled by the behaviour of many photographers, bird spotters and general “Let’s go and look at the birds” time wasters that seem attracted to my chosen “hide of the moment” as if to a magnet. Despite suggestions to the contrary I do really love my fellow man but must admit that, as with all relationships, that love has oft been stretched to virtual breaking point.
Taking some of the actions that can sometimes stir me to a state of near apoplexy in the sequence in which they normally occur, we will start in that frequently over looked place – The Beginning – which, in this case, is often located outside the hide. Many hides, particularly the ones open to the public, are located on Nature Reserves of one sort or another and these places, bounden by a plethora of modern regulations imposed by a variety of no doubt well meaning bodies are obliged to provide reasonable and unfettered access routes for all. This inevitably involves the provision of a gravelled path leading up to the hide, many of which are approached from a “blind side”. This prevents “approachees” from seeing what those in the hide are watching, after a wait of hours sometimes, and it would appear that what the eye doesn’t see the head doesn’t deign to consider and so their approach is heralded by the sound of carelessly scrunched gravel and animated conversation long before their bodies have reached the hide entrance. Before entering the hide bags and backpacks are slung off shoulders and thump up against the side of the building followed by a clumsy throwing open of the door. Seldom is there a cautious door opening and closing. The norm is for the door to be thrown open and then released to noisily close itself due to the self return spring mechanisms that are normally fitted.
The grand entrance thus effected there then follows a further period of disruption as benches are dragged across the floor and camera gear and lunch noisily distributed on the shelving provided. This is then followed by a period of unhushed conversation as earlier occupants are quizzed as to what there is on view and where it is. If the remaining available seating is such that newcomers are separated then everyone is like to be treated to the balance of the conversation that wasn’t finished off on the approach run. I have spent a great deal of time recently in a hide that is fairly regularly frequented by Kingfishers. This hide is not adjacent to a nest site and so the visits are based on fishing requirements which are of a sporadic and erratic nature being dictated by hunger, the degree of which is, itself, determined by the size and quantity of the fish caught earlier in the day. From a purely selfish point of view I would prefer the early morning fishing expeditions to result in a catch of tiddlers as this means there is a good chance of continuing action. If they manage to catch a whopper early on then the rest of the day is likely to be spent in Siesta, out of sight and round the corner!! Back to the point at issue. Kingfishers are one of those iconic subjects, like Badgers, that virtually anyone and everyone wants to see whether they are photographically inclined or not. A hide therefore, that provides regular sightings of such subjects, quickly attracts attention as the word spreads. The result is a steady stream of visitors many of whom are not regulars and have not acquired any semblance of “Hide etiquette”. I have lost count of the number of times the first words uttered after entering the hide are “Where’s these Kingfishers then?” as if they should be glued to the end of a perch just outside the Hide on permanent view. A further fact that never ceases to amaze me is that the average length of stay in that particular hide was little more than a few minutes if the Kingfishers failed to show on cue, thus negating the whole ethos of a hide which is to wait patiently and watch and observe. Some days the Kingfisher visits, especially in the days prior to dispersal of the young when food demand was high, were seemingly almost constant and on others there may have been only one or two in a whole day, or indeed none at all. Such is the nature of wildlife!
The next problem is that size actually can make a difference. More and more photographers seem to be finding the resources to invest in long lenses and lens manufacturers are exacerbating the situation by producing cheaper and cheaper, longer and longer “long lens lookalikes”. Some long lenses(and I have two – a 600mm F4 and a 400mm F2.8) together with their lens hoods, when mounted on a body, come up to an overall length often in excess of 2ft. Given that the bulk of the lens’ weight is at the bigger end this means that from the centre of gravity, which is usually the tripod mount, to the outside edge of the lens hood can be up to at least 18inches in length. The combined weight of the assembled unit is such that hand holding is not a very viable option. This leaves a choice between setting up a tripod in hide conditions or resting the unit on its fulcrum on the window ledge which leaves the offending outer 18inches waving around in the breeze outside the window. Due to the unwieldy nature, length and weight of these lenses it is sometimes difficult to “get on” a subject especially if it is off to one side. I have seen photographers shoving their whole lens and camera unit, together with their own head and shoulders, out of the window to circumvent the problem, regardless of the potential effect it may have on the subject and regardless of how it may affect the chances of the other hide occupants. To a subject the end of a lens looks like a big eye and will be something to be avoided at all costs. Most hide windows are designed as slots so that, under normal circumstances, there is little chance of a subject outside correlating what little, if anything, that it can see, with a human being.
Anything, and this includes those frantically pointing hands and fingers accompanied by a frenzied yelp of “there’s one over there”, that protrudes beyond the window is likely to be taken as a threat and cause a subject, which some hide occupants may have been waiting hours to see, to beat a hasty retreat. The answer is simple. Despite the occasional slight inconvenience use a tripod and set it up with your lens end inside the hide. You can normally reduce its length by removing the lens hood, or part of it, since offending light reflections will be somewhat thin on the ground in the confines of a hide. There will be times when you cannot “get on” the subject as mentioned above but this is just one of the sacrifices you must be prepared to put up with when you opt to operate within those circumstances.