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HIDES FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY by John Cooper

A hide (or blind) is any structure that will conceal a photographer from the wildlife being observed or photographed. Such a structure may range from a few branches propped up to provide some cover, to the more elaborate structures of fabric and steel.
Such structures are suitable for photographing wildlife at close quarters such as rabbits, kangaroos, wombats, foxes, birds etc.My first hide was very basic and consisted of an old, inverted wool bale supported by 4 stakes or star posts. Access was made through a slit in the back of the bale and a hole made in the front for the lens to protrude. A chair and tripod completed the setup.Another basic model was designed tee-pee style and comprised of 3 stakes tied together at the top, then spread out like the legs of a tripod. A length of fabric (Hessian is ideal) is wrapped around the stakes and fastened together with safety pins or wire. This hide will blend in with most environments and works quite well.These are cheap and simple setups and no great loss if vandalized or stolen, but I soon sought a bit more comfort and set about creating some more practical hides to suit dry land, water and to reach into the tree canopy.

Land Hide:

My hide for photographing wildlife from ground level subjects to approx eye level consists of 4 telescopic handles ( the type used in pool cleaning, or telescopic tent posts would also serve the purpose) attached to a top section that allows the legs to splay out giving an area of approx 1metre square (see diagram). The cover was made and fitted by the local upholsterer and features windows on all sides made from shade cloth, and full length zippers front and back .

 

Very light and portable - image shows aluminium poles, wooden spacers, top section and bundled up hide.
Image shows assembled frame with wooden spacers in position. Telescopic pole handles can be adjusted for desired height and uneven ground. Poles held in top section by wing nuts.
Hide completely assembled. Hide can be lifted from inside and moved in any direction.
Steel pegs placed in islets at bottom of hide helps stabilization in windy weather.

Water Hide:

My first hide used to photograph water birds was the inverted wool bale over 4 star posts; a wooden pallet proved a base for a chair and tripod. Of course this setup could only be used in relatively shallow water (up to approx 1 meter deep).
Once sitting down, water was up about chest level and even when wearing waders the cold eventually penetrated making photographic session quite uncomfortable.The new water hide shown here has an adjustable floor allowing the floor level to be moved up or down depending on water depth. This allows the photographer and equipment to remain dry. A wool bale is still used as the cover but now has an inbuilt zipper front and back and several shade cloth windows. The latter needs to be fairly dense so that the photographer can readily see out, but difficult for the bird life to see in. Cloth providing approx 75% shade is suitable. The legs of the hide can be anything up to 2 meters in length to cater for varying depths of water but a small step ladder may be needed to gain access to the hide.

Image shows the height adjustable angle-iron frame supported on 4 legs (short version). The paddle type feet aids stability on muddy or soft surfaces.
Image shows the platform in place with frame to support the wool bale.
Inverted wool bale in place - hide ready to be moved into position. Floor can be readily adjusted to suit water depth.
The water hide in position - note the longer legs used here. The hide has been elevated more than usual above water level to enable the eggs to be seen when swan stands or leaves nest.

Towers:

To be able to photograph nesting birds above about 2 meters, the hide needs to be elevated and this is usually done by a tower or scaffold built especially for the purpose.
All types of towers have been built over the years but the ones shown here work for me and are relatively safe and simple to use.The first tower I had built is suitable for nests up to 20feet and consists of 4 sections -
3 sections @ 5 feet, and one section @ 2.6 feet. (Additional height is given by the tripod). The material used in construction was ¾ inch square tubing. Each section has a built-in ladder.
These lengths I found easy to handle and fitted in the back of my Courier 4WD vehicle. Additional sections, if needed, are secured on a roof rack.The bottom section sits on a hinged base plate that is fitted with 4 large bolts. These bolts receive the 4 legs of the tower section while nuts on these bolts can be adjusted for leveling the tower on uneven ground (within reason).
Depending on the required height, additional section(s) are added, each section interlocking with the other via short lengths of one inch tubing. (see photos).
The completed tower is stabilized with four high tensile steel cables attached to sturdy steel pegs.
The tower construction work was carried out by a qualified welder.The hide at the top is collapsible and is constructed of angle aluminium. The sections are bolted to a 3mm thick aluminium floor. Four holes in the floor receive the 4 upper 'legs' of the tower and held in position with bolts.The second tower I had built is deigned after a TV tower and comprises of two 15 foot sections - one section telescoping inside the other. A winch is used to extend the tower to the desired height. This tower is suitable for nests between say 17 feet and 30 feet.
Seven steel guy ropes are used to stabilize the tower - three at the top of the lower section and four from the 4 corners of the hide at top.

The bottom section of tower positioned on bolts on base plate. The base plate has a hinged section that is pegged to the ground. This prevents the tower from skidding along the ground when being raised from the horizontal position.
This image shows the entrance into the hide from the top of the built in ladder. The upper 'legs' on the top section protrudes through the aluminium floor and secured by bolts - secures the hide to the tower.
Image shows three 5 foot sections of tower assembled with hide on top. This tower height can be pushed up by a single adult male.

 

Access to hide is through trapdoor in floor (split floor). The inside section of this telescopic tower has been raised about 3 meters making a total height approx 25 feet. The tower is setup on a Tawny frogmouths nest. Photographic gear is pulled up on a rope.
Seven steel guy ropes provides stability.

 

Ethics of photographing wildlife at close Quarters


It should be remembered at all times that the welfare of the subject is of prime importance. No photograph is worth the demise of the animal or its offspring - this particularly applies to birds. Branches around nest sites should never be removed as doing so gives greater access to predators and allows the heat of the midday sun to overheat the chicks.
Great care should also be exercised when introducing a hide. Take for example the water- hide setup on the black swan (see water hides).
I first introduced the hide on the edge of the water some 15 -20 meters from the nest site. The swan was very timid and would leave the nest as soon as a vehicle came along the track. Every few days the hide was moved a few more meters closer to the nest. After about a week photographic sessions were commenced at a distance of approx 5 meters.
By now I had gained the swans confidence and I was able to walk out to the hide without disturbing her off the nest!

For further details on photographing wildlife at close quarters, contact any of the photographers on this website.

 

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