Monday, 19th May, 2014
While on my regular early morning cycle ride with the dog this weekend, I came across a Hoopoe hunting in a buttercup meadow. Not an unusual sight round here but as they are such dramatic birds, I always take the opportunity to stop and watch them. While the bird was pouncing on unsuspecting field crickets, I reflected on the the fact that after eight years of searching, I still hadn't found a single Hoopoe's nest. Moments later the bird flew, like a giant butterfly, prey in beak, over my head and into a line of mature oak trees across the track. Could this be the day? I really didn't want to search for the nest with the dog in tow, so I cycled home and returned a hour or so later on my own.
Inspecting the trunks of the line of oaks, there was no obvious nest hole, so I backed away and sat in the shade to wait for the bird's return. Five minutes later a Hoopoe flew up to the middle tree, perched briefly on the trunk and then was off again. A closer look at this tree revealed a natural hole that I had not detected earlier with a young Hoopoe poking its head out. Bingo!
The nest site was north facing and in deep shade so I worked out that the sun would only shine on it for an hour so early in the morning. And so, the following dawn found me cycling down the track struggling with my camera and tripod on my back and a mobile pop-up hide on the handle bars! While the parents were absent, I quickly set up the hide in the field a few metres from the nest hole and waited. Minutes later, a bird arrived with a large caterpillar in beak, and perched briefly on a branch to try and work out what a camouflaged tent was doing under its nest tree. However, the need to feed its young outweighed its curiosity and the parent quickly alighted at the nest hole, popped the caterpillar into the gaping mouth of the hungry chick and was off again across the field in search of more food. Checking the image I had taken, I realised sadly that this was not the photographic opportunity that I had waited years for.
The dappled lighting created a patchwork of burnt-out sunlight and deep shadows. But even worse, a dead branch straggled the nest hole and no matter where I moved my hide, twigs and leaves obscured the nest. I contemplated climbing up and removing the offending branch, but the birders' welfare code got the better of me. The disturbance and stress that my pruning would cause to the adults and youngsters was not worth the photograph - there will be other nests. So, I made the most of a bad job and got what images I could. They won't win any competitions but I guess I have scored some ethical brownie points that I can use when I get to the wildlife photographer's heaven.