Alarm on, jump in to the shower and I'm bright and alert ready for the big day. It's only 5.15am and I make the big mistake of sending a message to wife Claire sending her a few kisses ( I'm a hopeless romantic really), she sends a nice one back but points out it's only 4.15am at home. Ooops! She shouldn't have the phone by the bed!!!!
Anyway I still had sufficient time to have a quick web browse to catch up on the news.
Mike's posted a message after his return saying he now knows exactly what it must be like to wear a burka. He'd spent the last 9 hours sitting in a dark, confined space staring out through a tiny postbox sized slot with limited field of view. I was prepared for the worst.
I knew he would need his tripod head for the coming day and which was locked in the car so I had arranged for him to leave his bedroom door open so I could leave the key for him. He was fast asleep, bless. That was the only sight of him in the last 36 hours!
I went downstairs and was greeted by Jose who gave me a bag with some food in it and passed me on to someone I didn't know and who didn't speak a word of English. He gestured I get in to a car and I duly did so. There was already another Spanish speaking occupant in the back seat.
Off we went but not before a quick stop at a cafe down the road which opens at 5.45am. I threw a cold milk temperature reduced quick coffee down my neck whilst the two Spaniards remained in the car.
It crossed my mind that we could be going anywhere. How many unfortunates have been driven off in to the night, ordered out of the vehicle and executed by terrorist organisations all around the world. Now it was my turn!
I do posses a vivid imagination.
The car stopped and it was indicated I follow the driver on foot whilst the other guy remained in the car. We must have walked about 200 metres and I was barely able to see where I was walking before we crossed through a row of trees and in to a field where the hide had been placed near the edge. Climbing up a couple of bales of straw to enter I was now wired in and left to it. It was so dark I had little concept of what surrounded me inside the hide, I just knew it wasn't much space.
It was about 6.15 am I would guess and still dark outside as well.
Slowly but surely it got light and after about 30 minutes light enough to make out my surrounds. The hide was a single person one for sure, maybe about 4x4 feet wide, around 5 foot high, certainly not tall enough to stand up in.
By around 7.00am there were interesting and unrecognised sounds coming from the trees.It must be the Kites waking up and getting ready for the new day.
I had been briefed about the need for silence, the need for total darkness, told not to switch the camera on until it was light. No mobile phones, no anything ! Jose was very precious and understandably so about this hide. He thinks it's the only Black-winged kite hide in Europe and he could be correct.
At 7.15am there was quite a commotion, suddenly a male Kite dropped on to the perch. I switched the camera on mindful to keep the display on the LCD covered to avoid any light showing.
Nervously I took my first shot.
It was a lot darker than the photo probably suggests. I knew I needed a low shutter speed otherwise the ISO would be sky high and the final image covered in noise. 1/125th sec at f4. ISO 4000.
Unfortunately the slightest movement by either myself or the bird would blur the image.
And it did.
The adult was joined by a juvenile bird who was expecting a share of the parent bird's catch but they were having none of it and immediately flew off.
The juvenile sat there for a few moments and I took three more shots.
The little one was either going to fall asleep or it was sulking.
Whatever the original intention at least the light was marginally better at that end of the perch and the ISO much improved.
I assumed there would be better opportunities as the day progressed. The sun was coming up and the field was bathed in glorious gold.
This would be the making of my trip.
Unfortunately it was almost the breaking point!
From 7.15 until the time I was released 15 hours later I saw virtually nothing.
A Magpie landed for a brief moment and that was it.
Despite the sun shining beautifully all day it was pretty damn cold in the hide until some 10 hours later when the sun had come right around and was shining head on. I think I must have been in shade most of the time but you are hardly aware of you surrounds staring out of that tiny slit of an opening.
Unfortunately Mike hadn't mentioned the cold so I could have been better prepared, mind you he had apparently been wearing sandals without socks. Must have been murder.
To pass the time of day I checked out my food supplies. Fair do's, Jose had provided more sandwiches, a small bar of chocolate and a chocolate covered doughnut. I had three large oranges plus the hotels baguettes and a bag of sunflower seeds.
Yes, the sunflower seeds looked just like a bag of bird food so I wasn't quite sure if the lady behind the bar had understood me correctly when I told her( using google translate on my laptop) I was due to spend the day in a bird hide and needed some food. Maybe they were to entice the birds?
I popped a couple in my mouth and the taste was surprisingly good they having been salted and toasted. Definitely intended for me then.I then gave them a bit of a chomp and the result was most unpleasant.it was like chewing a bit of chipboard. Yuk, no more of them then. It wasn't until several days later I discovered you are meant to crack the seed and only eat the kernel just like the birds do. They are not stupid but I am!
Of course as well as food of which I had a plentiful supply I also needed drink. I was prepared for that. I had a 1.5litre bottle of water as well as an empty one.
Yes you guessed it.
I texted Claire to explain my situation later that morning and to tell her I was passing the time of day by transferring the content of one bottle in to the next one with me the middle man. With not enough room to stand up and with fear of an accident great care had to be taken but I was managing to convert water in to ween without spilling a drop. Now that was a miracle!
In the earlier hours when the transfer process began I took great comfort from the warmth given out by my new found hot water bottle stuffed down my jacket but as the day wore on the effects of topping up the now cold contents were being lost.
Comfort came instead in the form of food rewards. Sadly my discipline fell apart and all the best things were eaten well before the intended time.
The day came and the day went.
Slowly, very slowly indeed.
My Dutch friend from the previous day said he'd read 14 books whilst sat in the Lynx hides. I had nothing, not even some photos to look at on the back of the camera.
My only saving grace, my connection with the outside world was my mobile phone and text messaging.
Mike it seemed had been all set that morning when his plan had been changed. He'd been told he was now going to the Little Bustard hide but as we had heard poor reports about their reliability he declined and instead chose to take the car for a drive down to Trujillo to do some touristy type of sightseeing. He later confronted Jose the hide man and demanded we were given a schedule and stuck with it instead of being bumped at the last minute in what we suspected was a manoeuvre that benefitted someone else.
I think that evening he was allocated the Little Owl hide which turned out to be as fruitful as my hide experience. Still that was only for 3 hours!
In fact he was sat at the bar waiting for me when I finally returned to the hotel. I had been released at 10.10pm, 10 minutes later than scheduled. Amazing how once the deadline passed I immediately got irritated about my incarceration for the first time. I had no one to blame but myself though as I knew the score before hand.Nature is after all totally unreliable, there can be no guarantees and that is part of the challenge of capturing it that we all understand. Patience is a much needed virtue.
I have decided that prolonged solitary confinement is a terrible punishment, what it must have been like for Terry Waite and all the other hostages is beyond imagination. You must be a very strong person to survive it. I even started having sympathy for those incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay and I'd only been in the hide for a day!
Would I do it again?
Probably but only in the belief I would be successful.
Just before I was let out I had heard the same sounds I'd heard earlier in the day. The Kites returning to roost no doubt.
When I told Jose of my lack of sightings he suggested maybe they had been disturbed and that's why they were not on the perches. He had actually seen them perched on the tree tops above the hide during the day. I very much doubted this, there had been no sounds other than from Magpies,Corn Buntings and Doves heard during the day. Two days later ( I don't know about the day after) someone else had almost the identical experience to me only they had two visits to the perch at 7.00 and 7.30am. Had he been responsible for this too?
Mike and I came to the conclusion that the reason he had been lucky was the weather was poor the day he was in the hide, consequently the recently fledged birds did not fly very far at all.Once the sun came up and the weather was good they were off.
Fortunately for Mike he stuck with his original choice of day and managed 900 images compared to my lousy 5!
As for Jose, he would continue hiring the hide as long as there was a credible chance of seeing the birds.
And so might you at 120 euros income a day!
My luck had to change soon surely?