When visiting RSPB reserves in UK there are usually plenty of purpose built hides from which to observe key locations and/or specific species. There's even a bird hide and feeding station setup at Fountain's Abbey in Yorkshire that had a surprising list of species within easy view.
I've never seen such a thing here in my admittedly limited wanderings in Thailand's national parks, so was wondering if they exist and if so, in which parks and where they may be found... How crowded do they get?
I've also seen reference to some people using their own 'hides' or 'blinds' to setup and use for purposes of photography. Is there any protocol to doing this? Are such items readily available or do they need to be made from stuff available in what sort of stores... I'm near to Rangsit, but the store I used to know in Future Park that may have supplied something suitable is no longer there.
When photographing from your own hides do you leave it to chance as to what comes along, or use inducements like mealworms or seeds to draw birds in? If the site is well chosen (water hole) then birds and other things should come anyway, but have seen some pictures where mealworms have been used. Any protocol here as to what's acceptable, and what not?...
Phu Khieo wildlife sanctuary has two bird photography hides. With artificial but quite naturally looking tiny waterholes which you can fill by opening a valve situated in the hide. Great in the dry season for bathing and drinking birds.
Kaeng Krachan has a few around the borders of the park. Initially poachers used these artificial waterholes to catch whatever they could get, but luckily they now learned they can make (more?) money by renting the blinds to birders. I think these get quite busy, in the prime birding months, but I have never visited these, so not sure.
Making your own: officially, if on park ground, I think not allowed. Anyway you are not supposed to go off trails or cut anything, etc. I know that in Khao Yai some birders have been warned (not sure, if fined...) for going off trail to shoot at bird nests (using their own bird blind tents). Often birders share these locations, and it will get crowded if a interesting species is found nesting, but then park staff might notice and perhaps do something about it.
I think the rangers in Kaeng Krachan are more tolerant then in Khao Yai. But usually you will be fine if you just set up a bird blind tent and wait; out of sight, out of mind. I have bought a bird blind tent through a Thai person on Facebook, Prin Pattawaro. He has many types.
Hopefully someday I will get the patience to sit for long hours. So far haven't used it much. I would go for mammals instead of birds...
Official park regulations say you are not allowed to feed animals. Though I know many of the bird photographers do. I am not sure what my own opinion is about this, I guess unless really necessary I would try to avoid feeding. It depends on the personal view of the park rangers if they allow you or not. Of course often these things happen out of sight of the park staff. I know only of one case in Huai Kha Khaeng that a birding guide was told to stop this practise after using worms, even though that was at the park restaurant where the birds live off of food scrapes, haha.
In Kaeng Krachan, the Rangers drop food scrapes to attract porcupines, civets, and other mammals, so guess they are ok with feeding birds. Anyway, feeding is more a way to keep the birds at the spot for longer, not really attracting them from far away. So still I would guess a natural waterhole would be a better choice, because the birds really com from every where to drink because they know it is there.
About bird calls, which would be another way of attracting species. In Kaeng Krachan they have put up signs telling this is not allowed, still it happens a lot. And sometimes I see the birders using calls that are played extremely loud and at a frequency much faster than the actual bird would call. And then for half an hour long. Don't think that is a good thing. Enough cases known where birds do not respond anymore to playback, because too many people used it. I think one should use these practises sparsely. Or preferably, not at all. Also the calls of owls or other predatory species are used to stress the smaller birds, which i think should be avoided at all cost.
Another thing not related to your question, but related to the topic how far one should go with interfering with the wildlife more than we already do by visiting these parks.
Since last weekend, there is a bit of a discussion going on on Facebook about the following case.
A pair of Banded Kingfishers is nesting in a big fig right next to the road in Kaeng Krachan. This has attracted many bird photographers, understandably. Sometimes more than 20 people were standing there waiting for the bird to appear.
No blinds are used, and to be honest it seems these kingfishers are not really bothered.
To get the perfect undistractive out-of-focus background, the birders have applied a stick connecting to the nesting tree. The kingfishers use it to perch before and after visiting the nest.
I doubt this was necessary, and there is a risk when applying this new stick that it scared the birds off and never return. I believe more care should be taken around nesting sites, and sometimes a bit more respect/ privacy wouldn't be a bad thing. But anyway, that is not the worst thing.
Next thing, somebody apparently did not like the stick, and decided to replace the stick by another one. That is one step too far if you ask me. The boss of Ban Krang sub station has complained with the birders, and talked to the person who did it. But the story is not finished yet.
Some people got great shots of the male kingfisher returning with a juvenile red-necked keelback snake in his bill. Photographers rightfully happy.
Next thing a snake moved into the tree, and then there was the fear that it would possibly eat the kingfisher chicks.
And believe it or not, the bird photographers chased the snake away.
I love snakes, but I don't care if it was a snake, a yellow-throated marten, a bird of prey, or a centipede wanting to eat the chicks, in my opinion this is unacceptable. People really went a step too far by interfering.
They are so happy when they get a shot of a bird eating a snake, but when the roles are the other way around, they suddenly feel the need to interfere with nature.
I was in the park and heard about a snake had visited the tree, but at that point I was not told that the people chased it off, even though I more or less expected they would.
Not sure when I get back in the park, but I will certainly bring it up with the rangers.
Surely the parent birds could chase the snake off, and if not, then that is nature. Imagine the amazing photos they could have got...
Well, that is my opinion
Then again, I have also caught snakes to put them at a better spot for a picture, so who am I to say something. Surely there are people that do not agree with that. However, I have not bothered e.g. pit viper couples that seemed ready for mating.
Have to say that I'm uneasy with the idea of any attempts to artificially draw animals to somewhere they're not normally inclined to go, and appalled at the idea of trying to unsettle them with predator calls.
So, choosing the site is the way I'd prefer to go, the use of a hide/blind just a means of obscuring the rather disturbing human form... something that may be possible anyway with judicious use of natural cover, although probably not always affording the best vantage point... and then settling down to wait for nature to come to me. If the site (e.g. watering hole) is well chosen then animals will come once they've accepted my presence and started to ignore or at least not feel threatened by it.
The story of the kingfishers and the snake I find understandable, but sad. I think when shooting wild animals that it's better to leave nature, no matter how raw it might be, to its own devices, and if that meant the snake getting the chicks then so be it... and what a great photo-op! Agreed the acceptability of the birds eating the snake versus the intolerance for things happening the other way round presents quite a paradox.
When I think of all the great BBC natural history films and the rule that nature be left to take its course, I feel that that is the right way to go about it. Observing what nature is doing and where it is doing it, and then setting up, with a hide if necessary, and recording what naturally happens.
Any kind of 'gardening' around nesting birds is bound to be disruptive to their immediate environment, perhaps disturbing reasons why the site was selected in the first place and thus risking abandonment. When building artificial nest boxes the recommendation is to NOT include perches, since while they may be convenient for the nesting species they are not necessary, and may end up aiding predators as well.
Anyway, that digresses from the core subject of the thread.
I'll check out Prin Pattawaro, but also try to improve on my stalking abilities using natural cover. It's often anyway a matter of finding a good spot and then settling down to wait for nature to come to me. As long as i'm not in direct sunlight it should be manageable/tolerable!
If you have any probs getting through to Prin .You can get in touch with me and i can sort it for you....
I have used mine for many years now and have never had any problems at NPs from rangers ( I do like to think of myself as a responsible birder), although I did have a run-in with a guide before who asked me if a particular bird had shown that morning, when I told him it had, he told me I had to leave now to make way for his 9 customers.... If I had my way it would be some of these guides on the endangered species list !!
It's exactly these kind of cases, like Bootly66 's experience, that have caused limited access for the bird hides in Phu Khieo wildlife sanctuary.
From what the rangers told me, multiple guides arrived with guests, even though it's usually a quiet park. With only two hides to share it can be a problem if suddenly three groups want to make use of them. Apparently the visitors could not solve the issue. I do understand the difficulty if multiple people paid a guide to bring them there expecting they would get some great photo opportunities, but then find out the location is used by others. Some people have trouble to just discuss nicely and wait for their turn.
After that incident, the rangers restricted access (at least that was the case last year...). Permission needs to be asked first before entering.
Luckily there are many responsible birders around, and mostly I see they share locations and information with eachother. Sadly a few think they own the jungle and think everyone should make place for them. A shame.
BTW, thanks Bootly66, for sharing the link about the bird hides!