Over a cup of tea and slice of cake back at the start of the year TheTimeChamber started discussing our photography and we both expressed how we wanted to look beyond the Urban Exploration and learn another element of photography. Over the years we have played about with other styles of photography and found enjoyment in both Wildlife and Landscape photography, but we have never really looked into it seriously. When we have ventured out and tried landscape photography we have fallen foul of viewing awesome photographs online (dam you Instagram) and thinking we need to head to far flung places to get the photos we so desired. Sitting in the National Trust cafe at Birling Gap, we realised that we had been ignoring the local area around us – the North and South downs have plenty to offer and offers the ideal landscape to learn Landscape Photography. During the same conversation we also wanted to try and find local spots where we could photograph birds, and after a little light googling I discovered that down in the depths of Sussex, a Wildlife Photographer (www.davidplummerimages.co.uk) had set up a number of bird hides within the grounds of Knepp Castle that could be hired for the day. I settled on the idea of photographing Kingfishers as they are a bird I have never seen in the wild before.
Now the reader may remember that back near the start of the year, biblical levels of rain fell on the British Isles that flooded large parts of the country. Unfortunately, this caused my booking for the Kingfisher hide was subsequently postponed. I had hoped to return at some point in May when the Kingfishers would be actively fishing for their young, but a little virus entered the mainstream and I found myself sat in the back garden photographing blue tits instead! So I waited a little longer and booked again for July, only to find that the BBC had been filming the Knepp Purple Butterfly rewilding project and subsequently the Kingfishers were disturbed, causing them to become nervous and hide. Itching to get out photograph something I opted to switch my booking to the Little Owl Hide instead. I had a fantastic time, even if having a six and a half foot man folding himself into a tiny bird hide for a day is a little cramped and comical!
It didn’t help that I had hired a Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8 E FL ED VR from www.lensesforhire.co.uk/ for the weekend, which is a lens that has a length of the average arm – you can see the behemoth size below next to my original 300mm lens! I had previously arranged to hire the older version of the lens, along with the Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4 E PF ED VR, to use for the Kingfishers. However, due to the postponement of the original hide date, along with the inconvenience of CoronaVirus, LensesforHire.co.uk kindly agreed to move my hire date to a different day. When I made the new booking with them they offered to upgrade my lens hire to the newer model. Win! Not that this post is in anyway associated with LensesForHire, but every time I have used them they have been superb and I highly recommend them to anyone needing lens equipment.
Now I should admit that there was an ulterior motive to hiring the 300mm F/4 PF lens – I have been looking into upgrading my current 300mm F/4 lens and I wanted to try it out. The main reason for this is that there is a wish to have a smaller telephoto lens in the bag when travelling; optically the older lens is superb and there is technically nothing wrong with it. But at half the weight and a shorter length, the dimensional difference of the newer lens is hard to ignore. I used the day in the hide at Knepp photographing the Little Owls as a good test to see how the newer lens handled. Spoiler: I found it just as good as my current 300mm; and on a walk the following day it was much easier to handle due to its size. I am no expert, but I would say that the sharpness of the lenses are very similar. The 400mm lens was incredible in every aspect, except the size and weight. It was a joy to use and photographs it produced were stunning, but at the cost of a small car I am highly doubtful I will ever own one.
So how were the owls? Superb. As soon as I had settled into the hide, an adult owl appeared within minutes of setting up my camera on the main perch in front of the hide and guzzled down the meal worms that had been used as bait. It was swiftly joined by a juvenile owl and they both spent some time feeding. Throughout the day they both returned multiple times, feeding from the perches and the ground and offering ample photographic opportunities. In between this, the unexpected bonus was watching the flocks of smaller birds squabble over the food. The day has spurned ideas to try and build our own hide somewhere. It’s best to let the photo gallery do the talking.