Some of my most rewarding bird photography is hide based. As it is often in the breeding season and thus nest photography you are guaranteed action. In particular I enjoy the fact that you really get to know your subject when spending a considerable time with them, something not possible when photographing opportunistically. An article of mine have appeared recently in Africa Birds and Birding that documented the breeding cycle of endangered Red-Billed Oxpeckers. Due to its endangered status I paid extra care not to do the birds any harm. I am often asked how to go about photographing birds without doing them any harm so below follows a few guidelines that I employ when photographing sensitive (and all nests are sensitive!) situations. These I have gathered both from personal experience as well as speaking to some of the countries leading bird photographers. Notably Dr Warwick Tarboton.
Place the hide a respectable distance away from the nest.
Reduce the distance by 50% each day.
Move the hide into the right position over several days.
Ensure that all flaps are securely tied up. Loose flaps will scare the birds away from the nest.
In very sensitive cases, move the hide in at night.
When photographing, always go to the hide accompanied and let the other person walk away from the hide once you are inside. That will give the impression that you have come and gone. Apply the same tactic when exiting the hide.
I try never to stay too late into the evening at the hide as a disturbance at the nest too late may prevent the birds from coming in to roost.
Once in the hide:
Place camera gear in position and do not move unnecessarily.
Remain as silent as possible.
If the birds are stressed in any way move away! No photographs is worth a dead chick – no matter the species.
Picture of a well placed hide.