What better way to spend a Monday off work than indulging in a few hours of uninterrupted bird photography which, apart from around my own garden bird feeder has been somewhat lacking lately. On today’s agenda was a long overdue visit to Tangarreg Pools, custom built photographic hides run by local photographer and wildlife enthusiast Phil ‘Flash’ Jones.
You can read more about Phil’s hides here:
The hides here offer unrivalled views of wild birds in their natural environment, and the opportunity to photograph them up close as they visit regularly to enjoy the supplementary food provided.
Despite it being early July, the weather was somewhat less summery than I had hoped for with overcast skies and a brisk breeze blowing. Fortunately the sunshine did make a few rather brief fleeting appearances, not unlike a some of the birds I had come to photograph.
The Pond Hide
The pond hide is, as it’s name suggests situated beside a small manmade pond and alongside this sits a specially designed feeding area.
The setup here is customisable with a variety of perches, feeders and props available for you to modify the scene and add variety to your images. With a fresh scattering of mealworms and seed, it was simple a case of watching and waiting…
Concealed within the hide, the birds were largely unaware and unconcerned with my presence and I didn’t have to wait too long until my first subject emerged into the clearing. It immediately landed on one of the purposefully placed branches, an ideal vantage point from which to check for any danger before heading to the feeding platform a short flight away.
It was a juvenile blue tit, slightly drabber than an adult with distinctive yellow face and white patches around the eyes making them look like they are wearing spectacles!
With the clouds overhead flattening the light, the colours were a little muted and I couldn’t use as high a shutter speed as I’d have liked to really freeze the birds in motion. These are a couple of the more successful attempts.
This juvenile blue tit was soon joined by another, presumably a sibling and they happily tucked in to the mealworms cached behind this mossy rock.
After a somewhat slow start the activity soon intensified around the feeding platform and the young blue tits found themselves competing with various other woodland birds, including their larger cousins the great tits.
Whilst the small songbirds (and in particular the tits) were certainly the most abundant species around the pond hide, I did enjoy a few larger visitors too including this rather skittish male blackbird.
He made repeated visits to the tabletop feeder, nervously looking around and wing flicking before darting off with a beak full of mealworms. His behaviour suggested he had a nest of hungry chicks concealed in the undergrown nearby.
A nuthatch made an even more fleeting appearance than the elusive welsh sunshine! There was just time to focus the camera and get one shot of this individual before it darted back into the trees.
The last of the visitors to the pond hide were a pair of jays, the most colourful of the UK corvids. They made a few brief appearances, landing gracefully on a tall upright branch before swooping down to the tree stumps to cache as many nuts as they could in their crops before disappearing once more.
Despite their somewhat predictable behaviour, my reactions simply weren’t quick enough to be able to capture a shot of them alighting on the perch with wings spread, although I did capture a decent portrait or two.
The reflection hide
After a couple of hours in the pond hide it was time to move on to the reflection hide for a change of scenery. This tiny hide only has enough room for two people inside, and you have to share with a fair few spiders! Nevertheless the views it offered were certainly worth the slight discomfort within.
The pond hide has a feeding area positioned at the end of an artificial pool of water, built at eye level to the hide windows and designed to capture reflections of the birds on the water surface. The breeze on this occasion created ripples over the water so the reflections were not crisp, perfect mirror images but this still produced some lovely results.
Some of the visitors were looking far from their best and rather bedraggling, their plumage faded and tatty. This blue tit in particular was having a particular bad feather day, it’s head virtually bald!
Their unkept appearance is not uncommon at this time of year and a result of the stresses and strains of the breeding season. Fortunately most will recover and return to their usual smart selves once they undergo their next moult later in the year.
Like at the pond hide earlier, it was the tits who were the stars of the show and in particular a charming flock of juvenile great and blue tits. Their antics around the pool provided great entertainment and lots of opportunity for photographs.
This is certainly one of my favourites, why do baby birds always look so grumpy!
The clouds had thinned by this time and the light in the reflection hide significantly improved making it possible to increase the shutter speed for more action shots. Again the results were a mixed bag but it was certainly fun trying!
A big thanks to Phil for his assistance during my visit. I will certainly be back to visit again!
Photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2022
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