August 2020

Fearing another Lockdown in the autumn / winter, I wanted to find a way of being able to increase my bird photography opportunities in our own garden. There was no initial plan, it all evolved as we went along.

We started with chopping down a large branch from the birch tree, which my parents incidentally smuggled across from my childhood home in Norway as a small sapling in 1982. For a more natural look, we used the thickest end of the branch to form a 'super-highway' from one fence to the next in the corner of our garden, replacing the old wooden plank that was there before. The resident squirrels use the highway to access the peanut feeder on the birch tree. 

Initially we placed the remaining offcut in our old Christmas tree stand – we haven't celebrated for almost 30 years, so it was of no great use to us. However, Storm Francis put paid to that, blowing the tree over and breaking the stand. Another, much more solid stand was created, with metal struts for support. The metal was then covered in black Duct tape to blend in better.

Now we are just waiting for the leaves to fall off

We have a covered terrace attached to the house, with a couple of comfy chairs. Using an old discarded book case, David built a camera shelf for me.

There's room for a bean bag, gimbal and coffee cups. 

For the last couple of weeks I have noticed some cut-down tree roots and branches laying around in an elderly neighbour's garden. She was delighted to have them taken away when I asked if she was planning on using them.

The root is currently just resting at the bottom of the garden, until we decide what to do with it. 

I placed one of the larger branches on top of the fence near a bird feeder, for some more natural perches for the birds and squirrels who eat the nuts.

I also bought some camouflage netting to shield us from the birds when photographing. It seems, however, that we are going to have to do something to make our little 'hide' area much darker, as you can see through these in both directions, which is obviously not the idea.
September 2020
The next stage was to build a reflection pool. We could have bought a seed tray or similar from the garden centre to use as a base, but I wanted the sides lower on one end and higher nearer the camera. Smaller birds will not be able to reach the water from the higher edges, which will hopefully encourage them to go to the far end where I can get reflections.
David built it all from scratch, using chip board for the base and wood for the sides, covered with a pond liner. It's important to have the liner black, for perfect reflections.
Instead of building legs for the table pond, we placed it on some existing plant stands that are no longer in use.
Then came the fun of trying to cover the edges with something natural-looking that would prevent the black plastic from showing. I built a small beach from concrete and covered it in and used a couple of the branches I picked from my neighbour's garden. Some bird seed went on to grow into grass as you can see on the little table in the foreground above. My mum used to collect stones wherever she went, and when I was clearing my parents house last year after the death of my dad, I kept them with the intention of creating a small memorial. She would have loved this!
I wanted some perches for the birds to land on before entering the water, increasing my opportunities to get a good shot. These were attached by clamps to an upright stick.  Keeping a selection of sticks and changing them regularly will give variety to my images. 
A while back I created a bokeh background image by taking a picture of some foliage, deliberately out of focus, and had that printed on a large waterproof paper to use as a cleaner, more pleasing background for my images.
As I was taking some test shots with the paper clipped to a wooden board with the board resting against the birch tree, a gust of wind knocked it over and into the pond, scratching the surface. The scratch is deep, and while I can get rid of the now-white mark on the background in post processing, the accident gouged out the water-proof surface of the paper, which means it can no longer be left out in the rain. Bummer!

Hmm. I have a plan. Using some green paint, I try to fill in the white areas, but the result is nowhere near perfect, and doesn't help the lack of waterproofing. The rest of my plan involves painting over the offending area with clear gel nail varnish, and sealing it under a UV light.
It doesn't seem to show too badly, especially not with the dappled shadows from the overhanging birch branches.
The shadows from the tree onto the background had been a concern, but they are soft enough to look natural. When the sun slips down lower, however, the shadows from the criss-cross fence become an issue. We covered the fence with some black plastic to combat that for the time being, and in time the ivy should grow across and give it some natural coverage.
Time to fill the pond with water. The reflections are pretty awesome – now all we need is a bird or five.
Every morning the water is covered in bits and pieces dropped down from the tree, so we purchased a small hand held fishing net to scoop that up. We did consider a net to cover it up completely, but I do want the birds to get comfortable with drinking from the pond when we're not there. 
By the end of September we have our fist visitor, a sparrow. 
Soon a blackbird was seen bathing, and a few days later I was outside when he came down to drink.
Even a squirrel joined in.
It seems to me that the birds do not like the stones for standing on when they are drinking, as all the ones we've seen so far have been on the bark. Unfortunately where the bark is, they have been slightly hidden by a small rock and the side of the pond, so we rearrange the 'furniture' a little to see if we can get the visitors to go to a different place. 

After not having had any visitors for quite a while,  in March 2021 I saw a goldfinch at the pond and managed to grab a quick photo.  Typical that it would turn up when the water was covered in bits of pollen and other stuff from the overhanging birch tree. Time to drain and clean it methinks.

While the water was partially drained, a siskin was feeling thirsty. 

The squirrels visit from time to time

Autumn 2021
We cut up an old yucca plant and used parts of it to create a slightly different background, and when we visited New Forest, we picked up some bits of old logs and posts to use for props. 
We've been hiding nuts in the top of the post, and David drilled out some holes in the logs to place some more food. 
It is mostly the squirrels visiting at the moment, but we have had the odd robin too.
And a dove.

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