Raptor PhotoArk™

Update 1st December 2015: The Raptor PhotoArks are currently being prepared for the winter season. The stage in front of the hides is being set for ground-feeding buzzards and red kites with rocks, logs stumps, branches, an old gate and gate posts. They are all at various distances and with very good backgrounds. Other visitors to this hillside location include ravens, foxes and roe deer. We hope to have the PhotoArks opening in December. Look out for photos from these hides on Twitter and Facebook. Many thanks for your interest! EN

 

Downland Raptor PhotoArk™

At a glance...

Current StatusOPENING SOONEQV Focal Length≍500mm≥ | Subject Distance: 10m+
Star AttractionsBuzzard & Red KiteShooting AnglesFaces 300° NW at 'near ground' level
Supporting CastRoe Deer, Hare, Red Fox, Badger, Gamebirds, CorvidsConnectivityUp to 4-bars of 3G on Vodafone
No. of PhotogsStrictly One Photographer OnlyAccessTwo stiles, crossing two fields, doorway hatch is restrictive
HabitatOpen grassland on DownsFeederCarrion
ViewingSnoot & ScrimTimesPeak activity mid-morning and mid-afternoon
Dimensions (internal)W = 1.9m, L = 2.3m, H = ~1mPrice (per day)£150 per person

OPENING SOON… The Wessex Downs AONB, with its rolling downland landscape, is the perfect habitat for soaring birds of prey such as the Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and the stunning Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Located on the North Wiltshire Downs, Helen Browning’s Organic Eastbrook Farm sits on the western fringe of the Wessex Downs and it is no exception. Four resident pairs of Buzzards and soaring Red Kites are regularly seen over the farm, especially during silage cutting and harvest time.

The Raptor PhotoArks™ are located in the corner of a vast field on the chalk hills above Bishopstone, facing north west, along a hedgerow and across the pasture. To encourage the birds of prey to land within photographic range, roadkill from the surrounding roads is collected, frozen and deposited nearby – approximately 12-15m away. Although it’s a pretty nasty job, we prefer to use and relocate carrion, rather than artificially add to the available food chain. We also hope that it keeps the red kites and buzzards off the treacherous country lanes.

The site is completely open to the sky and the rising and setting sun all year round, with unobscured sunlight and outstanding views over the surrounding countryside. This location is extremely rich with wildlife and you may see red fox, hare, roe deer, game birds, and even badgers in the evening. The diversity is set to increase as this area has been earmarked for conservation and will eventually be ploughed and resown for wild bird feed and nectar-rich flowers, to help boost local bird and bee populations, respectively.

In front of the hides, a small amount of landscaping provides a raised feeding site so the ground-feeding birds are still visible as an when the wildflowers and silage shoot up in Spring. This stage and props are positioned at the best distance for a full-frame shot (with some faming) with a 500-600mm lens (or a 300mm+1.4xTC on a crop factor camera). With a 300mm on all frame, you’ll be able to capture two birds together or one with its wings spread. You get the idea. Stumps, logs, rocks and other props have been strategically placed to provide variations to your images and these will change periodically – to keep things nice and fresh. We have also set-up a basic tripod with a dummy SLR camera in order to habituate the birds to ignore any future camera rig that you many want to use for remote ‘close-up and wide” photography.

Two PhotoArks™ will be available year round for dawn to dusk photography – a third being added during peak seasons. The Raptor PhotoArks™ are only a short drive from our collection point at The Royal Oak car park. We’ll park on a nearby private track and walk approximately seven minutes along the edge of two fields and into the hide.

A surprisingly comfortable space awaits you, measuring 2.3m (8ft) in length, 1.9m (6ft) wide and over 1m high. A 30mm cushioned rubber floor has been fitted inside with an additional self-inflating camping mat on top. I’ve spent many hours laying in there and it’s a battle to stay awake! In time, the front of these PhotoArks will be a high quality glazed panel. For now, a WWS canvas snoot has been installed.

These hides are designed for ground-level photography, standing just 0.3m from the ground, so your tripod needs to open wide! Alternatively you can used a double beanbag, or we can supply a custom-made base plate to fit a gimbal head. If you find lying prone is uncomfortable, the window is high enough (~800mm) for you to sit-up. Low-slung ‘fishing chairs’ are provided.

If you would like to photograph at this site, but lying prone or sitting on a padded floor would be too uncomfortable, we have another option. In between the PhotoArks™, we have set-up a WWS® Dome Hide complete with ground sheet, comfy chair and snoot. The shooting angle is obviously higher and you would need to adhere to certain guidelines to prevent disturbing the wildlife. It is worth noting that it does not have any insulation and this is a very exposed location! But it’s there should you need it.

There is a zero tolerance policy against leaving the hides unescorted. I implore you. Please do not leave the hide and walk about. If you are desperate for the toilet, please call and somebody will fetch you. There are no public rights of way and your excursions will disturb the wildlife, possibly causing irreparable damage to the location. Please understand that this is for the wildlife’s protection. Hidden trail cameras monitor the site at all times.

A quick word… You are booking this hide in good faith and in the understanding that this is wildlife. There are no guarantees. Every effort has been made to deliver a great experience with a level of comfort. However, these are truly wild animals. There are no controlled conditions. You may have to sit and wait patiently for hours. This is not like Gigrin Farm (an excellent venue) where they all swarm in at 2:30pm on the dot…