I’ve been working on a personal project in the beautiful Peak District, documenting one of the UK’s most beautiful and stunning summer visitors, the Redstart. This attractive little cousin of the Robin and Nightingale is one of my favorite summer visitors to our shores. They are immediately identifiable by their bright orange-red tails, and were also known as ‘firetail’ which they often quiver and constantly flick.
I’ve been getting there before first light. I put my mobile hide in weeks ago so it would be accepted by this pair. Once the sun comes up I’m inside the hide and in place to minimise any disturbance to these Redstarts. Due to the fact its a dense wood the light can be very challenging. I always find East and West when visiting any place with my compass watch so that I know where my light source will come from and where I will finally lose my light in the west.
Its really important for gaining a decent shutter speed to freeze the action. Also crucial for the different sorts of lighting you can use to be creative within your own photography – Side-Back and so on. With the cover of the forest and the sun moving around it has given me different light all day and its been very interesting to work with. On most of my visits a pair of Robins have also kept me company, often dropping down in front of my hide to see what is making the slight noise they can hear.
This pair of Redstarts when I first found then were sitting on eggs. Then over the next week or so they hatched and there has been lots activity. The female and male coming in many times during the day with food. The male often lands on some fallen, rotting Silver Birch trees on the forest floor. The female though is more shier and comes from above, hovers then almost always goes straight into the nestbox.
I’ve positioned my hide low and I’m using the dense ferns on the ground to break up my hide while giving me an out of focus look that I’m using to photograph the birds once they land on these rotting Silver birch trees that are below the nestbox and on the ground. Underexposing slightly in camera I’m able to pick up on the rays of light while rendering the background and shaded areas quite dark. Alongside my hide I’ve also had a second camera system set up using a wide angled lens to try and capture the Redstart’s coming to the nestbox which is part of the story.
Over a three week period I set up the second camera, lens and tripod using the silent mode in camera as well as wrapping some material around the lens where it joins the camera to muffle the noise. I have been using a Hahnel Giga T Pro II remote control that fits into the hotshoe on top of my Nikon camera. Over that time I’ve seen how the light changes, learnt some of their flight paths they use into the box and I set up the remote using manual focus and operated it from my hide some eighty meters away.
I’ve been very mindful to minimise any disturbance to the birds and I always set the remote camera up before first light well before the Redstarts start feeding. I cover it in a camo net and ferns to break up the shape before then returning to my main hide before the sun comes up. Over that period I have slowly moved the camera, lens and tripod closer to the nestbox as not to spook the birds and for them to accept it. Its been very much trail and error with many blurred images. The following photographs show what I was lucky enough to capture.
John Clare, born in 1793 in rural Northamptonshire is regarded as one of the most important poets of the natural world, He wrote a wonderful poem about this stunning bird named;
“Around the old and ruined wall,
About the dead and hollow tree,
The firetail’s ‘tweet-tut’ fretting call
Keeps up a teasing melody.
It starts at every passer-by,
And boys that by its dwelling roam
Well know its danger-daunting cry
And watch it till its ventures home.
Its nest is made of hair and moss
And down and cobwebs very fine;
Its eggs are blue withouten gloss,
I’ve found as many oft as nine.
The female has a fiery tail,
And is a dull and sandy brown,
But beautiful appears the male
With crimson breast and jetty crown.”
Here are a few images from my main hide of firstly the male bird. Truly one of the most handsome birds that visit the UK during our summer months. You never know where either of them are going to land so often you have a few seconds to see and then compose your images. I did manage to get a few images of his stunning red tail feathers with his back to me. Then other times he lands face onto me or looking away. I managed a few images shooting through the dense ferns with the light shinning down on his gorgeous plumage also. There are a few young trees growing around my hide and he likes to land on these before dropping into the nextbox.
The following photos are of the female Redstart who is more shier than the male. The images are of her with natural prey she’d caught for her young. The one of her in flight below was obtained by using the natural light, a high shutter speed and lots and lots of luck and time. I don’t ever use flash within my own wildlife photography because it blinds animals and birds. So I always try and use the natural play of light and compose my images using the natural foliage and landscapes the subject lives in. I’m hoping to carry this project on until the young have fledged.
A top tip for all those that love taking photos of wildlife, go out into your patch, or an area you know well, stop. listen and watch from dawn onward. You might get lucky seeing something you didn’t know was there and this then can turn into your own personal protect. I understand the constraints of timing, families etc but for the first few hours of the day and the last few hours of the day nature is very active and this time offers you the best chance to learn and understand nature more.
Once you start doing this your own life is enriched more and secondly your knowledge becomes better of the natural world. Its the only way to become a better wildlife photographer it really is. Once you’ve understood the basics of the camera that you’re need for wildlife you have to be able to know more about your subject and how it lives and where. You cant buy this or fake it , its mothernature and she is beautiful, real and honest and this is how you should take your images with that mindset. Take your images as seen, work with what you’re given, and you never know what will turn up, good luck.