After yesterday's disaster today was a ray of hope! Our first day's hide shooting.
I'd nodded off to sleep so early the previous evening that when I heard Mike slink off down the hotel corridor at around 5.30am I decided I might as well get up too. It would at least put me in the right time frame for my turn the following morning. Showered and dressed I was playing on the laptop when the phone went at 7.00am.
It was Jose, the hide guy. Can you come down stairs as soon as possible, you are going to the Hoopoe hide today.
An unexpected change of plan there then. I was told Bee-eaters at 7.30am!
Oh well, it didn't really matter although of all the hides that were on offer Bee-eaters and Hoopoes were my last choice as I have done both a few times before.
Anyway off we went, I was sharing the hide with a Dutch guy who spoke perfect English.
It turned out he was travelling Spain in his motorhome and had just completed 9 days of Lynx photography or should I say, attempted Lynx photography. In 9 days he'd taken 5 photographs of which he said just one was of an acceptable standard.
Photographers all get painted with the same brush by some in the birdwatching fraternity. We are accused of all sorts of misdemeanours, flushing birds, disturbance etc etc but in truth that is far from the reality and many of us spend hour after hour sitting, waiting, watching as we know that the best photo opportunities are when the bird comes to you and not vice versa.
Anyway we were taken to the hide and locked in. Well not exactly locked in but wired in to make sure we couldn't get out. It seemed Jose was a bit neurotic about the possibility of us disturbing the birds so it seems that yes, some photographers are far from perfect. Shame.
Once we were nicely settled in to the hide it didn't take long for the first appearance of the bird.
They always land with the head feathers in full display so that's the moment you want to capture.
Well at first anyway. You soon get bored with that and you are more interested in action shots of the bird in flight and landing on the perch. To freeze the movement you need a decent shutter speed which then means a compromise on both ISO and aperture settings especially when the weather wasn't the best, mainly dull and overcast with the occasional shower.
I decided that the best tactic was to focus on the perch, in fact the knobbly bit in the middle, and when you see the bird approaching hit the shutter button. A fast frame rate and a remote control shutter release are two big assets to capturing the shot you are after.
This Collared Dove landed in exactly the right spot , the shutter speed was high enough but the depth of field is too shallow.
When the bird gets closer it's much better but there is motion blur even at 1/2000th of a second.
This particular Dove hung around for a while making itself quite comfortable trying to attract a mate cooing. Amazing the way they inflate themselves!
Fortunately it moved on after a while and we were able to concentrate on the Hoopoe but it wasn't as easy as you might think as the bird had the habit of flying in from behind us.
Ideally we needed them coming towards us but the wind didn't favour that approach. There was an alternative though. The birds were bringing food to the nest that was in the main trunk of the Olive tree to which the perch was attached. We soon noticed that often the preferred option was to land on the perch, fly to the nest hole, feed the chicks then return to the perch before flying off again, again with their backs to us to use the wind direction.
We wouldn't get the shot with food in their bills but we might manage one without it.
Just needed one to land on exactly the right spot!
We spent all morning trying to capture the moment and in between times having a general chat. My new found Dutch pal was a retired cucumber grower and believe it or not growing cucumbers can be a fascinating subject. Amazing the little bits of information you pick up.
One square metre of soil will produce an average 200 cucumbers grown using "conventional" methods but if you go organic you will only get 60. Hence the price premium.
We were passing the time in fine style and before you knew it our appointed pick up time of 12.30 was upon us. Jacob, as I'm sure he was called, requested that he stayed longer as he had nothing else to do until the evening when he was in the Little Owl hide at 7.00pm. I was due in the Lesser Kestrel hide that evening so when offered for both of us to be collected at 4.30pm that was perfect.
Released briefly for a toilet break we returned in to the hide to be wired in once more.
It had started raining so the Hoopoes had stopped feeding the young.
Rather ominously a Magpie was investigating the tree and not for the first time either.
Locked in at least we couldn't be blamed if the chicks went missing.
As the weather improved so the Hoopoe recommenced feeding but initially it was a rather bedraggled bird that showed up.
The wind soon dried him out though.
We were back to trying for those action shots.
Better light, higher shutter speed, smaller aperture for depth of field, lower ISO..... and the bird choosing the right spot to land!
Actually it didn't. It changed it's mind in mid air and landed facing the wrong way. I quite like the shot though.
I won't bore you with more of the same but basically we spent from around 7.30 to 4.30 or 9 hours trying the same thing over and over.
Meanwhile a text message from Mike confirmed that despite the poor weather conditions he had had 11 visits to the perch by the Black-winged Kites, one lasting an hour. Bode well for me the following day then.
Released from captivity at 4.30 we were driven back to the hotel where Jacob was told he'd be picked up at whatever time. I asked about me and was told that was my lot for the day. I couldn't go to the Lesser Kestrel hide as I'd disturb the occupants now.
Pardon? I was meant to be the occupant. I had a sneaking suspicion my slot had been conveniently given to someone else to suit Jose's needs not mine.
It was before 5.00pm, my original departure time was still in the future but at the drop of a hat it was changed.
I wasn't exactly happy that I was facing the rest of the evening with nothing to do.
I couldn't even go to the supermarket as it was a Sunday and closed. Damn. I needed provisions for my all day visit to the Black-winged Kite hide.
Jose promised to sort something for me and I also managed to get the hotel to make up a couple of baguettes too.
I spent the evening having a couple of pints at the bar before heading to an early bed in preparation for my scheduled 5.45am start.
I was a bit cheesed off to be honest. That was the second change of programme I had been subjected to in my first day. Mike meanwhile wasn't as happy as he had been. He was still wired in to his hide whilst I was getting my head down. His last text declared he hadn't seen a thing for hours for 8 hours!
Oh well, I was prepared for what might happen the following day.