27 January 2013

Photographing Red Kites in Yorkshire

"...the magpies are having a great time. That rabbit's going to be gone soon... Why aren't the kites coming down.?? Another day with no pictures to show for it; this weather's stunning too - the snow is just incredible. Maybe I've spent too much time on this already. But hang on.. what's that? There's something on the bait. It's a kite!! Where did that come from.??? I didn't even see him arrive. Never mind; I can't believe how comfortable the bird looks. So happy feeding - right in front of the hide. This is just amazing..!!!"
Experiences like this are what a wildlife photographer lives for. In an instant, all the negative feelings, all the discomfort, the freezing cold - all disappear as you realize that you are experiencing something very, very special.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be introduced to another farm on the outskirts of Leeds. The location is wonderful - on the side of a valley with a distant backdrop of the other side. Red Kites were everywhere - and much lower than most. There is a good population here, no doubt birds that have spread their way from the reintroduction programmes at Harewood and Bramham. My aim was to photograph them in flight and once the snow arrived I headed for the farm. After trying them with a bit of food it was clear that they would come down for it, but they wouldn't tolerate me close enough to photograph in the open. I had to re-think. After scouting round, I discovered what was one of the luckiest finds ever - an old pig shed with a good sized window, looking out onto one of the fields. There was no doubt that this was the spot. Not only was it pretty good photogenically, but it was also next to the farmhouse so kites would be used to seeing people come and go. I pinned some camouflage material to the window, left a folding stool and beanbag, and planned to return the next day. From then on it was a case of getting some fresh rabbit and putting it out as bait. The first day in my hide saw a couple of kites come down to feed, but it would get much better than this.
I returned for five days during the period of snow and, for whatever reason, I had to spend three sessions with no kites coming to the bait This was incredibly frustrating, but I decided to give it one last go. The last session in the hide was a transformation. Crows, magpies, two buzzards and up to four red kites would come down to feed on the bait. Not only was I able to shoot portraits at such close range, but I was also treated to some fascinating behaviour as kites dive bombed each other and fought over the bait. Some birds clearly had dominance - they often fed happily whilst another kite would sit nearby watching, but not daring to intervene.

I switched between portraits and action shots- hoping I could get the perfect image of two birds scrapping in the snow. The longest I had done in this cold hide was three and a half hours. I looked at the time and realised I had been in there for five hours!! This was one of the toughest aspects of this project - keeping the comfort and dealing with temperatures that were regularly around -3 degrees.!! On top of that, the amount of snow meant that I had to park around a mile away and walk the rest with all my gear (and two dead rabbits!). The walk back was much more welcome... it's the best way to warm up properly.

It was tough - and my joints didn't appreciate it, but I can honestly say it was a true privilege to experience these magnificent birds of prey at such close quarters. There is something very special about watching wild birds of prey. They have a wild stare, and something in their eyes, that just doesn't compare with captive raptors. I would love to spend more time with these kites - it was possibly the most rewarding experience of my photographic career.

This location is one that has potential for photography workshops so I am aiming to set something up, either as group workshops or for one to one. Seeing people on the farm regularly means that the kites are used to humans, but not tame. The backdrops are just stunning too, providing opportunities for flight shots against the distant hillside rather than just the sky. If anyone is keen to photograph these birds please register your interest by email at paul.miguel@ntlworld.com 

If you like these images then please add a comment!!

Drake Mallard landing on frozen lake

Every winter I have a go at this. The idea is to capture the moment the bird lands - and hopefully slips. Seems a bit cruel, but the images have a lot of impact and commercial appeal. I'm still working on the perfect shot, but this one I love for the amazing position of the wings - the wing tips are actually touching. It's poetry in motion.

To capture these images I use a straight 300mm f4 lens hand-held, set a shutter speed of around 1/1250 second and increase the depth of field (about f5.6). The resulting ISO here was around ISO 250 - meaning no problems with increased noise.

24 January 2013

Red Kite with Rabbit Carcass

Red Kite in snow by Paul Miguel
Red Kite in snow, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

A whole rabbit disappeared pretty quickly today. Eventually the kites decided to try and take it away. I couldn't believe my luck that I caught this one so perfectly.! Photographed with a 300mm F4 lens at around 1/1000 second at ISO 800.

19 January 2013

Good things come to those who wait.!!

Red Kite in snow by Paul Miguel
Red Kite in snow, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

Although this image probably isn't sharp enough to sell, it is certainly one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had photographing wildlife. The last few days have been very tough, with virtually no pictures to show for my efforts. All that change in an instant when finally a red kite landed by the rabbit that I had put out as bait. With a bit of luck, I'll be able to improve on these and post a blog about how I achieved them soon.

For now... I'm just happy knowing that I have some decent images of winter wildlife from this stunning weather.

15 January 2013

Black headed Gull flying in snow

I always enjoy trying to make common subjects look more interesting. The light and the falling snow make this a better than average shot of a black headed gull.

10 January 2013

Jay with reflection

Jay with reflection by Paul Miguel
Jay with reflection, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

Finally, everything comes together - the background, the light, and of course... the bird! Two hours before I took this I was completely demoralised - wondering whether to pack it in and concentrate my attentions on something else. Now I sit here at my computer feeling just about every positive emotion possible: elation, joy, achievement... relief!! It really is pure satisfaction that I've finally achieved the shots I set out to when I first built this reflection pool back in October.

I need to make a few improvements yet, and change over my hide to something bigger. Once done, I will be offering workshops and the hide for hire, so others can experience the excitement of seeing these birds up close.