I got back from a week in Scotland a few days ago and whilst I was there I visited Northshots Red Squirrel hides. I was a bit dubious about paying for hide rental as it seems like there are several of these hides set up by wildlife photographers all over the country and some seem to produce very similar if not identical looking images. Also it seems that anyone with a bit of money could build up a great portfolio of images quite quickly without any real field skills and it seems a little bit like cheating! However you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it and having only seen one red squirrel before I was fairly keen to get some pictures and see for myself what these sort of set-ups are like.
Of the three Red Squirrel hides that Northshots have set up I chose the woodland setting rather than the jumping or reflection pool hides as I wanted the most natural look. I was met by James Shooter who is currently working at Northshots who informed me that the woodland hide hadn’t been very active recently and recommended the jumping hide. The hide was set up so that the squirrels ran along a log and jumped onto a platform feeder.
Two squirrels arrived after about 20 minutes wait and stayed for a little while, munching on the hazelnuts left out for them, long enough for me to get some decent shots. They returned after about an hour for about the same length of time. Unfortunately I didn’t quite manage to nail the jumping shot as the light wasn’t too great but got plenty of “almosts”. I was shooting wide open at ISO 1600 to get the shutter quick enough to freeze motion and 300mm at 2.8 the depth of field only gives a few centimetres leeway either side! A bit of nice sunshine and I could have stopped down and probably got a reasonable shot.
All in all I enjoyed the session and had a reasonable length of time with the squirrels, long enough to get shots that I wanted and have some time to watch them and enjoy not looking through the viewfinder. I am still under the opinion that hide rental is cheating a little bit but it was certainly nice to have had the hard work done for me and it was great to see the squirrels nice and close!
Here’s a few “almost” shots:
And a couple of nice habitat shots: