Wildlife Photography on the Outer Hebrides – Vehicle Hide

Sunrise on North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Sunrise on North Uist, Outer Hebrides

I hope you enjoyed my first Outer Hebrides blog  featuring images taken on the beach as well as a brief introduction.

For this blog I thought I would show images that were taken from the car. A car can make a great hide and with care, if a subject is approached slowly, can get you really good views. Whilst I was on the Outer Hebrides I made sure I made the most of each day, so I was up before dawn to try and capture subjects in the wonderful morning light. My opening sunrise photograph was shot with my 400mm 2.8 lens, not the usual choice for a landscape picture but the flattened perspective that you get can be stunning.

Redshank with replication in Hebridean Loch
Redshank (Tringa totanus) reflected in a Scottish loch.

The photograph of the Curlew (Numenius arquata) was from the same morning and on the edge of one of the many Lochs on North Uist, I love the way the sun is shinning through the  bird’s primary feathers and glancing off its breast.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) taking off at sunrise on North Uist.
Curlew (Numenius arquata) taking off in the first light of day.

Ideally you need someone driving the vehicle as balancing a large lens on your lap is not recommended. Be aware of your surroundings, these methods are for locations where there is virtually zero traffic. Be sensible and drive slowly looking ahead at any potential posts/perches to see if there is anything sat on top of them.

The main rules for getting great shots from your car are as follows;

  • Make sure you’re camera is set in advance, you probably won’t have time to mess with settings.
  • Know how to use your camera with it at your eye, fumbling around with you camera will probably scare away the animal.
  • Wear clothing that breaks up your shape, you don’t want to look too human.
  • No skin on show, wear gloves and hat/scrim
  • Window already down and lens pointing in the right direction.
  • Any movements should be very slow and smooth.
  • Approach slowly in the vehicle, smooth stop.

Where possible turn the engine off to stop all vibrations. Take some shots, you’ll instantly be able to gauge how the subject is reacting. It may fly immediately, a lot do, but if you get a willing subject and are slow and smooth with you movements you’ll be able to get some great shots.

The photograph below of a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) was taken using the methods described above. For anyone that has tried to approach a Meadow Pipit on foot they’ll know they are very flighty so using a car certainly made it easier to get closer.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) on fence post. Using a vehicle as a hide.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) on fence post.

The best time of day is certainly early morning or late evening. The light can be beautiful and in the morning you are often the first vehicle to approach any perched up subjects. Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) are one of my favourite birds, their shape is unmistakable and the mottled pattern is always a delight to see and this one sat long enough to be photographed.

Using a vehicle as a hide to photograph a Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). North Uist, Outer Hebrides by Graham Ella
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) photographed from the car.

With all animal photography if you can get a little catchlight in the eyes it brings the subject to life. The Snipe above is real example of this, as is the photograph below of a Starling (Sturnus vulgarise). Starlings are one the birds that often get overlooked, if you can get close enough and the sun is shining they are far from being plain. Again the car worked great for this, as I’ve never gotten this close to a Starling before.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched on a barbwire fence.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched on a barbwire fence.

Sometimes you can’t get close to a subject. They may not necessarily be bothered by your presence  but maybe feeding too far away from the vehicle. If that’s the case look at including some of the environment. The photograph below of a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) I think proves the point, we know what the subject is, the eye contact even at that distance adds a focal point and we can see the Owl’s within its moorland habitat.

Letterbox crop of a Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) within its environment.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) photographed within its moorland habitat.

Another birds that is always fantastic to see is a male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus). I did manage to get a closer image of a bird later in the week, but still loved this shot of it hunting for voles amongst the grass.

Male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) hunting.
Male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) hunting.

It’s not only birds that you may find on your early morning drives. One morning we spotted 2 Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) that were feeding in a field, they were patrolling the fence line looking for a place to cross the road. Once they get it in their mind that ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ they can be very determined. It was then a case of sitting, waiting and hoping they would jump the fence at the section near the car.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) jumping a barbwire fence.
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) jumping a barbwire fence.

One bird that I was really pleased to find sat on a fence post, even though it remained there for a matter of seconds was this Buzzard (Buteo buteo). The fact it landed on an older post with Lichen on it was even better. You start to find yourself looking at different posts and perches and picking your favourites. There were some lovely individual Lichen and Moss covered posts on North Uist, I’m sure if I’d stayed longer one day something would have landed on one of them…maybe next time.

Buzzard (Buteo buteo) on a fence post.
Buzzard (Buteo buteo) on a fence post.

It’s not just on the posts that you can get close to the wildlife, keep an eye at ground level too. There is a good breeding population of Oysercatchers across the Hebridean islands and they often can be found in the grass along the road sides.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) in the grass.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) in the grass.

One early morning, whilst driving, we came across another Red Deer. The lighting was gorgeous, just glancing over the horizon which illuminated the outline of the Deer. Red Deer are very aware of their surroundings, so I only managed a couple of frames.

Beautiful morning rim lighting on this Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
Beautiful morning rim lighting on this Red Deer

I’ll finish off with a few photographs of one of the main birds that I wanted to photograph, whilst on North Uist, the Short-eared Owl. I would have liked to have had an Owl filling the frame on a lovely old post but that wasn’t to be, a good reason to go back some day and try again.

The first image is the nearest that I got…

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) on post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) on post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) on a post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) on a post.
Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Herring Gull
Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Herring Gull

Again, real thanks for reading this blog and please share it with others if you like it. I do hope it makes you get up early one morning, drive down some country lanes and see what you can photograph.

 

 

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