Wildlife photography during the 2020 Covid lockdown
As a passionate wildlife photographer, the highlight of 2020 for me was to be a trip to Botswana to take pictures of the amazing African wildlife.
Covid-19 put paid to that and the lockdown further restricted the possibility of anything other than local photographs. I did toy with the idea of updating my wildlife website, but this felt like a poor substitute and while time was certainly not an issue, motivation was.
I have regularly fed my garden birds for many years and being isolated at home encouraged me to invest in various additional bird food such as mealworms and red millet in an attempt to attract a greater range of species.
Last April we enjoyed a particularly sunny spell and I hit on the idea of opening a window that looked out onto the bird feeders in the garden and attempted to photograph visitors through an admittedly narrow aperture. This required me to carefully re-site the feeders and at the same time, I used the abundant spare time to create some props to add a bit more interest to the otherwise routine looking scene.
The first prop was a length of copper pipe with an old brass tap fitted to the top. It had no water supply but I pushed it into the lawn so it was both visible through the window and adjacent to the feeders. This acted as a staging post for birds leaving my hawthorn hedge while sizing up the available food. I also moved the birdbath to give me a clear line of sight. Next came a length of sisal rope slung between two wooden posts. The starlings in particular seemed to favour that. A further couple of posts and an old aluminium watering can set me up nicely. The watering can was filled almost to the top with water from the garden butt and by floating a plastic plant pot saucer on the surface I was able to fill it with mealworms and keep it out of sight of the camera lens. The aim was to encourage a bird to land on the handle for long enough to grab a picture.
Despite the relative quiet of the lockdown, the venture wasn’t an immediate success. I discovered that the window, open at its maximum 60-degree angle (it had a stop built in), was reflecting my image on the glass pane and alarming the birds, particularly if I moved. By judiciously half closing a curtain and keeping very still, the birds started to arrive. The principle worked quite well but I hadn’t fully accounted for the speed at which the birds flitted from one perch to another.
Eventually and with familiarity, they became more confiding and although I ended up deleting many pictures of birds half entering or leaving the frame, I was able to capture some images that pleased me. Particularly amusing were the birds splashing about in the birdbath.
Towards the end of 2020 the daylight was poor and producing “flat” pictures, so on a whim I got out my trail camera, hammered a stake into the soil and secured it with straps to the stake. I sawed a short length of plastic guttering off a piece in the garage and nailed that to the top to keep off some of the rain. The trail camera is battery powered and is triggered to take a short burst of video with sound when it detects any movement. It also has a date and time stamp recorded on any footage. It has a 90 degree detection area and so I positioned it to face the feeders and sprinkled some bird seed and peanuts on the ground within range.
The first few nights recorded what seemed like half the population of village cats who stealthily passed with total disinterest.
On the morning of 2 December however I struck gold. I was amazed to see clear infrared images of both a badger and a fox at separate times the previous night. It made me wonder how often these secretive night-time animals had been visiting the garden while I was fast asleep and oblivious.
I’d be stretching a point if I concluded that my locked down photography year had been an adequate replacement for Africa, but equally it’s been a real privilege in quiet surroundings not only to share the joy of communing with nature but also to discover that my garden plays host to badgers and foxes.