When I was asked to spend my weekend at Sherwood Hideaway to take part in wildlife activities available there, of course I was only too happy to oblige. It sounded like a wonderful experience and I could think of much worse ways to spend my weekend.
Wildlife walks take place each Sunday at Sherwood Hideaway where guests are guided through the Forest by falconry experts before being given the opportunity to fly Harris Hawks.
As somewhat of a novice photographer who generally relies on iPhone filters to create mediocre shots I was a little apprehensive that main activity would be participating in a new wildlife photography course. I was of course up for the challenge though to preview this enhancement to the already popular wildlife walks which launches at Sherwood Hideaway in the autumn.
My family and I settled into our luxury cabin on the Friday evening. I was joining the photography course at 11am on the Saturday morning so prepared lunch for everybody before they went to burn off some energy at nearby Sherwood Pines.
I joined the group where there was just eight of us taking part and although there were some professional photographers amongst us, I was relieved not all were – panic over! We all met at the Sherwood Hideaway reception where we were introduced to falconry expert Simon Stacey, and award-winning wildlife photographer Heather Burns – our guide and teacher for the day. Simon’s stunning birds certainly weren’t camera shy and were all beautifully poised, each waiting for its spotlight moment in the day’s adventure. Heather introduced the session by giving us some much-valued tips and suggestions, and was lovely enough to give the ‘beginners’ one to one guidance. So today we’d be capturing glorious shots of hawks, falcons and owls in flight, and learn a thing or two about them along the way.
We walked the Thoresby Walk, a winding pathway amidst foliage and towering pine trees, firstly with Harris hawk Annabelle. Capturing her in flight was not easy and Heather was constantly guiding us on the best positions to be in. These birds are fast though and no sooner was she called for flight, she was perched on Simon’s arm. I managed to get a couple of shots though and thankfully Annabelle was happy for us to get up close to her whilst she was perched on a fence. Simon assured us the owls would be easier!
Simon certainly knows his stuff and was a mine of information, providing us with an insight into the birds and his relationship with them. Who knew so many well-known phrases derived from that of the falconry world? Sayings like codger, fed up and under the thumb – Google it and you’ll see.
Throughout the day, Simon introduced us to Matilda a European eagle owl, Bobby the barn owl (and my favourite), Squeak a long-eared owl, Willow a hybrid gyr saker falcon. Not forgetting Bella, a peregrine falcon who is new to Simon’s brood and took her first public flight for us having only learnt to fly the week previous. She seemed a little disgruntled at first but soon spread her wings for us after we witnessed a heart-warming conversation between her and dad (Simon).
I’m not sure I captured that ‘hero’ in flight shot but perhaps I’m being modest. Who knows? With a bit more practice I may be giving Heather a run for her money! Honestly though, I had such a wonderful experience being guided by Heather’s expertise and getting up close and personal with these beautiful birds – all amidst the surroundings of Sherwood Forest.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the herd of Longhorn Cattle that joined us for part of our walk. It’s on the Thoresby Estate where they roam freely, so of course we took the opportunity to take a snapshot or two.
I can thoroughly recommend the wildlife walk and photography course. For me it doesn’t matter if you’re a keen photographer or not, whether you’re a professional or beginner. It really was an insightful and enjoyable activity, and in such a beautiful setting.
For those of you who don’t know, the Sherwood Hideaway is a woodland retreat on the sprawling Thoresby Estate, made up of around just 30 luxury forest lodges nestled within magnificent Sherwood Forest and I’ve written about my stay there too!
Wildlife photography courses at Sherwood Hideaway start from 14 October. Click here for more information.