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Wildlife Camera » Wildlife from the car window

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« Classic gamebirds from backyard pens -
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The Man with the Golden Binoculars »

Wildlife from the car window

24 November 2009


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Pere David's deer

Victorian books on shooting had whole chapters devoted to “Getting Close to your Quarry”, complete with illustrations of hunters disguised as buffaloes or hiding themselves in haycarts. The trick was to get inside something that animals and birds were familiar with, and would ignore.

Today’s equivalent to the peasant’s haycart is the family car. It is the perfect mobile hide for the wildlife photographer. 

Whether you are hunting down lions or herons, the car is the best place to go into hiding. It is comfortable and, if you’ve got nerve, it will go almost anywhere.

Animals and birds, large and small, tend to ignore vehicles. And you can usually open the window quietly without spooking your target. It is very unlikely that the birds or animals will try to come in, although safari park monkeys are an exception — they will reach into the car and grab your camera and probably your sunglasses as well …

Elsewhere in these postings I have mentioned the rival philosophies of two types of birders, the leggers and the arsers. The leggers keep moving and hope to find something; the arsers sit quietly and wait for the birds to come to them. The leggers don’t want to get bored. The arsers are allergic to perspiration.

Photographers who want to sit in the car and shoot pix from the windows are definitely in the super-arser category. All you need is patience and an eye for a likely place, such as a roadside pool. The in-car cameraman can get some really fine shots while also munching on a sandwich. (There is nothing in the photographic manuals which states categorically that the best pictures can be obtained only in conditions of extreme discomfort.)

A useful accessory is a foot-long piece of pipe insulation – the foam stuff – split along its length so that you can pop it over the top of the glass of a half-open window and provide a gentle resting place for your zoom lens. There are more expensive gadgets, but this is handy, effective and cheap. The only place you are going to use it is in the car, so leave it in the seat pocket. Don’t hide it in the boot, because when the day comes that a magnificent stag is posing near the road, you don’t want to get out to fetch the window-pad and immediately scare the beast out of sight.

For long periods of immobility, while focussed on a particular branch for example, you might need a firmer base. There are several types of clamp which screw into your camera and grip the window glass or pillar. For years I have used a little Hama clamp (£25) which can get a grip in the most surprising places and also includes a table-top tripod in its handle.

It’s worth noting that the car is not a rock-solid foundation for photography, especially if you leave the engine running. The vibration is quite likely to affect your pictures, so switch off and sit still – although this is the sort of rule that is very difficult to enforce if you are a member of a group in an African safari jeep!

(Text and photo of Pere David’s deer at Woburn all copyright Willy Newlands.)
 


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