It’s always nice to sneak in a real day off, being outside with no paper-work to do, no lights flashing and not a Harvest Mouse to be seen! (I love the Harvest Mice but after doing 10 workshops a week with them for the last 5 months it’s nice to get away from them!) Anyway, on this day S, G and myself decided to spend a day at John Stanton’s Millers Wood over in Sussex – an idyllic little piece of private woodland that John has turned into a bird photographers paradise with several hides and all the perches that you could ever wish for.
Finding the Wood is easy enough if you follow the instructions on John’s Website although it is quite easy to over-shoot the entrance (there are a number of easy turning places up the road!) with a private road that will take you from the main road to the actual wood. The little private road is hard surfaced (concrete) so absolutely no problem for my little Nissan to go down to the small parking area a few hundred yards down the road. I’m not sure if I’d like to do it in a low slung sports car … but for my little hatchback it was no problem.
On arrival John greeted us, offered us a drink, and took us to the hide we would be starting out in. There are a number of hides available so you can always have the sun behind you all day at any time of year. The hides are simple but comfortable they are made from the timber that John felled whilst opening up the woodland to allow light in. With padded benches to sit on and bean bags for the cameras, net screens to hide you from the birds whilst you photograph them it all has a lovely log cabin pioneering feel to it whilst being perfectly functional. One of the cabins has a little gas camping cooker for making Tea and Coffee and there is the obligatory eco-toilet a short distance away.
Once you are set up inside the hide the fun really starts!
John had already put food out for the birds before we got there and right from the moment that we had our cameras set up we were treated so a non-stop stream of birds popping in and out. At this time of year many of the birds are feeding their young so they spend all day filling up their beaks with food to transport back to the nest for their hungry offspring. There were also a few fledgling birds around that were still begging food from their parents including Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, a family of Blue Tits and a family of Great Tits. Watching (and photographing) the youngsters begging food from their (harassed looking) parents was fascinating.
Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are plentiful to say the least and are the mainstay of the action most of the time. There are lots of them and they are not shy – being probably the most constant visitor to the feeding stations. They are great to photograph and amusing to just watch as they squabble over everything and go about their daily business a few metres from you.
I was using a Canon Eos RP mirror-less full frame camera with a Sigma 150 – 600 C on it – I chose the RP as the day we went on was quite cloudy and dull and the RP is great with handling higher ISO settings unlike the crop sensor on my 7D II. There were times when I would have liked the extra reach of the crop sensor but in hindsight looking the ISO levels that I was shooting at sometimes the full frame was the right choice. The slower frame rate of the RP also meant that I had to take more care timing the shots and helped keep the number of shots taken down a bit so less to wade through at the end of the day.
Over the course of the day there were numerous visitors to the feeders including a pair of Jays that were incredibly shy (tip: take off your watch so it doesn’t glint behind the screen when you move!) as well as Chaffinches, Gold Finches, Robins, a variety of Tits, the odd bank vole scurrying about as well as other odds and ends. Every now and then the birds would scatter and vanish for a minute or two – I’m guessing that the local Sparrowhawk family were also feeding their young although we never saw they on this visit – but on the whole we had something in front of the hide pretty much all day.
All in all a brilliant day out and perfect for a relaxing day spent in a tranquil setting whilst being kept busy by so many different birds! Thank you John for all your help and for giving us such an amazing place to come to for our bird fix!