Best Places to Photograph Ospreys
I think that, until fairly recently, most people travelled all the way to Scotland if they wanted to capture images of Ospreys fishing. Scotland is a beautiful country, but for the majority of people living in England it is a mammoth task to get there. I have made the trek myself looking for that elusive image of an Osprey flying towards you carrying a live, wriggling trout. I was extremely disappointed. The Ospreys were difficult to lure in at the time of my visit, and the only shots that I got were of Ospreys taking away dead trout that had been thrown into the pool. Dead fish are invariably upside down in the bird’s talons and the resulting photos were quickly dispatched to the recycle bin. I need natural, lifelike photographs with a real wow-factor. The site in Rutland is providing those priceless pictures and is less than 90 miles from the M25 whereas Aviemore is more than 500 miles away.
Osprey Hides near Rutland Water
This specialist hide in Rutland was constructed in 2014. It has been built on the shorter edge of an oblong shaped lake that is approximately 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. It currently provides the only opportunity in England to regularly witness Osprey dives from such close distances. This is in complete contrast to viewing the Ospreys actually nesting in the Rutland Water Reserve. These birds are more than 900 feet from the viewing point. The hide is at a local trout farm. All of the other pools at the farm, with the exception of the one where the hide is, have been covered with protective netting. This means that the only food source here for the Ospreys is this one pool that we are using. Sightings can never be 100% guaranteed but, to date, there have been just three occasions out of more than 150 sessions in 2019 when no Osprey appeared. The odds are very much stacked in your favour. You may get less dives here than you might expect in Scotland, but I have found that the backgrounds and the overall quality of the pictures are far superior here in Rutland. The pond is stocked with some 10,000 rainbow trout for the season. Approximately 4,000 of these are taken by Ospreys and Grey Herons throughout the season, so there will always be a minimum of 6,000 trout for the birds to choose from. That is why this venue is so successful.
Exclusive Use of the Hide
Photographers on Safari have taken all six places in the hide, so we will be there on our own. The hide has comfortable swivel chairs and a shelf for your camera(s) in front of the camouflage netting. Tripods are not required. Most people use bean bags, but I like the freedom provided by hand-held photography. There is a separate toilet nearby but use of this is strongly discouraged during a session. If a bird spots someone outside the hide it can affect the behaviour of this bird for several days afterwards.
One Morning Session and One Evening Session Included
I began my visits to this hide in 2019. Confusingly, both sessions commence at 4.00. That is 4.00 in the morning and 4.00 in the afternoon. “Which sessions are the best?” I asked. “There is no difference” was the reply, “but we only have morning sessions left as all the afternoon sessions are fully booked”. I took that to mean that the afternoon sessions were the best, and eventually managed to get a couple of cancellations. I also booked some early morning sessions. The lighting for the two sessions is very different and both work extremely well. I actually prefer the morning sessions and I concluded that the only reason that people prefer the afternoons is that they do not need to get up in the middle of the night in order to attend the morning shoots.
Photography Advice while in the Hides
Noise levels must be kept to a minimum, but I will be on hand to help with anything that I can. Photographers, and cameras, will have differing capabilities. Some cameras will struggle more than others in low light. The birds can arrive at any time, but I have not seen them dive within the first hour of a morning session beginning, until the light is at a respectable level for photography. This may not always happen, but it is a good indicator of what to expect. Shutter speeds rise rapidly as time progresses. Fast lenses are a huge bonus if we experience early dives but, more often than not, I have been able to shoot at f5.6.
Which Lenses are Best?
How long is a piece of string? It is impossible for me to advise on using one particular lens. The birds will dive in the middle of the pool, at the back of the pool or at the front of the pool just a few feet from the hide. No lens will cover all scenarios. My first attempt was with a fixed 300mm lens. The bird dived close to the hide and I got some really great close-in detail but no shots of the entire bird. I changed to my 70-200mm and the bird next dived into the middle of the pool and 200mm got me some fantastic shots. The third dive was at the back of the pool and it was too far away for that lens. I now take two lenses with me. The 70-200 f2.8 for very low light (I have rarely used it) and the 100-400 F5.6. The 100-400 is my go-to lens if the light is good, and this has provided me with most of my best shots. This is on a full-frame camera. I have decided not to try to cater for the birds diving just in front of the hide as I believe that most of the pictures of the birds a little further away are better.
Will I be able to Photograph the Ospreys?
Photographing Ospreys is relatively easy here at Rutland. The birds mostly perch in a tree nearby before diving into the pond. It is just behind, above and to the left side of the pond. Everyone in the hide can easily see this perch and prepare themselves for when it dives into the water. The more experienced photographers will try to track the Osprey as it dives into the water. This is not easy and if you have lost sight of the bird while it was diving you are at a huge disadvantage. When the bird catches a fish it usually remains partly-submerged in the water for a couple of seconds before flying away with its trout. This is the perfect opportunity for everyone to find the bird in their camera and focus on the Osprey perfectly before it flies away with the trout hanging from its talons. I have found that most photographers, whatever level they are at, are successful as long as the bird is not too close to the hide. While we are in the hide, we will have the benefit of a spotter who is in constant contact with us. He will be scanning the skies and giving us up to date information regarding the approach of any Osprey and other interesting species. This information is invaluable so that we are fully prepared for any impending activity. The Ospreys almost always dive form the same dead branch, so predicting the time of the dive is relatively easy.
What are my Chances of Success?
As we are all aware, nothing is guaranteed with wildlife. Each session does guarantee that you will get at least one Osprey dive into the water. If that does not happen you will be offered a free unaccompanied session some time in the future. What nobody can predict is what the weather will be like and in which direction the wind will be blowing. As long as the light is reasonable, you can take some great pictures in the rain. The hide faces south, so anything but a southerly wind works well. The Ospreys usually (but not always) take off into the wind. What do we measure as a successful shot? I believe that what most people would hope to leave this workshop with is a number of shots with the Osprey flying towards us with a live fish wriggling in its talons. I have seen an injured, or dead, fish floating on the surface on two occasions. The Ospreys ignore these. These are left for the Red Kites. In 2019, so that I could give an honest appraisal of this venue, I visited the pool on 10 occasions. Once was a no-show. On two occasions I only got Ospreys flying away from me. On the other seven occasions I got good pictures of an Osprey flying towards me while carrying a live fish. On that basis you have a 70% chance of leaving with a great shot from each session in the hide. This workshop provides two sessions, so you would be extremely unlucky not to get at least one opportunity to take the shot you are looking for over the two sessions. One of the pair of Kingfishers should also visit on about 70% of the sessions.
Territorial Resident Osprey near the Hide
The hide is situated about two miles from Rutland Water. There is a very dominant Osprey (ringed with the number 28) who nests not far away. He spends quite a lot of his time chasing off other Ospreys that also try to fish here. He cannot do this all the time and it is quite interesting to see how the others cope with his aggression. They watch him from a safe distance and will typically choose to fish immediately after 28 has left the pond with a fish. They know that he will be busy feeding his chicks for a while and that he will have left the pool unguarded. 01 and his son 28A and are masters at this technique.
My First Afternoon at the Hide
My first impression of the hide was very positive. It is a roomy hide. The chairs are comfortable and there is a very convenient shelf for your camera. There is also plenty of space for your camera bag behind you. It is a very pretty pool and the opportunity to photograph without man-made objects in the background is good. The number of fishes in the pond is incredible. You immediately see why the Ospreys love to fish here. Fish are constantly jumping out of the water, often more than a foot clear of the surface. We are in the hide at 4PM. A Red Kite soon appears and does many circuits around the pool. An Osprey appears but it is chased off by the Red Kite. We are told that this is a very rare event and that the Osprey usually exhibits dominance over the Red Kite. The Osprey 28 soon returns and dives in and catches a fish. I get some incredibly detailed pictures but my 300mm lens is too big and I clip his wings in every single shot. We then photograph Mandarin Ducks, Pheasants, a Buzzard and an Egret catching many small fish. A second Osprey 28A appears. He is the son of 28. He dives but misses. The 70-200 lens got me some great shots though. He returns to the tree. A Buzzards lands on a nearby post. The Osprey swoops down but pulls out because of the Buzzard. The Osprey leaves. The Buzzard leaves. We photograph a Muntjac Deer. Osprey 28 returns. A Grey Heron arrives and the Red Kite returns. A second Ospreys sits in a tree behind us. The Buzzard returns and leaves. Osprey 28 dives and catches a fish. We get some really amazing shots (70-200). Everyone is ecstatic 7.50PM and the day is over.
My Second and Third Afternoons in the Hide
Two good afternoons but no Osprey pictures as outstandingly impressive as on Day 1. Grey Wagtail on nearby perch and in-flight shot with insect in its mouth. Grey Heron, Little Egret, Buzzard, Mandarin Ducks, Red Kite, Osprey in tree but no dive – he is very nervous of Red Kite and Buzzard in the same tree. Red Kite, Buzzard and Osprey leave. Muntjac Deer. Buzzard returns. Mallard Ducks. Osprey back for fourth time. Dives and catches fish.
On the third afternoon an Osprey arrived after just 3 minutes of getting in the hide. He flew off twice before an aborted dive. He returned and caught a fish. Also Egret, Pheasant, Grey heron, Mallard Ducks, Mandarin Ducks, Kingfisher, Magpie, & Grey Wagtail.
My First Morning in the Hide
Grey Heron, Red Kite in tree, kingfisher, Buzzard on ground, Heron catches large Trout. At 06.00 Osprey 28 dives and catches fish. Perfect dive right in the centre of the pool. Perfect position for the light on the pool at the time. The light was just hitting the top of the tree from where he launched. The sun had not yet reached the pond. It could not have been better. He caught the fish on his first attempt, but it took three attempts to get airborne. He was in the water for quite a while giving us a wonderful show. He took off directly towards us. Everyone was buzzing. Kingfisher back. Lots of preening. Moorhen. Kingfisher catches fish and smashes it repeatedly on a nearby branch before swallowing it. Stays for 20 minutes. Another Osprey arrives but is chased off by 28. Second dive by 28. Catches fish in great position. Wonderful shots again. Less happening than in the previous afternoons but the quality of what we saw was amazing.
My Second Morning in the Hide
Kingfisher (for almost an hour), Red Kite, Grey Heron and Buzzard. Osprey arrives at 06.00 when light is perfect. Osprey 28 dives and catches fish and flies straight towards us. Best Osprey shots to date. Incredible quality. Fish is writhing and wiggling in all directions. Absolute perfection. 5 minutes later Osprey 01 arrives while 28 is feeding his three chicks. Osprey 01 catches fish. More great shots. Kestrel and Muntjac. Osprey 01 returns. Lots of circling over pool and false dives. Quite nervous of nearby Buzzard that is wanting to steal his catch. Buzzard chases Osprey before leaving. Osprey 01 perches in tree and catches another fish. Good shots. This second session confirmed that there is less happening in the mornings, but the quality of the Osprey photographs is amazing.
Two Sessions Format with Classroom Reviews of Your Photographs
Wildlife is wildlife, and there are no absolute guarantees where wild birds are concerned. My aim is to give the best possible chance of each photographer returning with at least one top quality photograph of an Osprey carrying a fish. Based on my first five sessions at the Rutland Hide, I have come to the conclusion that if a photographer does both a morning and an afternoon session, they should be able to achieve this. I think that they will be very unlucky if they do not do so. I have more than 100 “Osprey keepers” which I have entered into the Osprey Gallery just from these first 5 sessions. More photos will be added as time progresses. What Photographers on safari are offering is as follows;
15.50; Meet at Hide Location.Workshop begins.
16.00; First photography session begins with group tuition and advice on camera settings required inside the hide.
20.00; First photography session ends. Overnight hotel at client’s expense.
03.50; Meet at Hide Location.
04.00; Enter Hide. Prepare your cameras and ready yourselves for any Ospreys arriving early.
04.10; Second photography session begins.One to one assistance as required.
08.30; Second photography session ends.
09.00; Breakfast at café (included).
09.45 to 11.30; Optional debrief at West End Studios, Whissendine.
Spend time processing a number of each photographer’s best images.
You are free to leave when you choose.