Of course you should immediately aim higher than a Robin on the bird table. Take advantage of which ever wildlife subjects you have, especially those which are least upset by your constructive changes. I once built a cemetery - lots of hardboard, light weight tombstones and withering wreaths dotted a friend's lawn to get a shot of a fox which took food from her patio. However not all the visitors will be as forgiving as ‘Robbie’. There’s no doubt that some of the more timid will be instantly put off if they see you anywhere unusual. You will normally find that your subjects are more wary than you’d imagined they might be. As a general rule animals rely on familiarity for security, thus as long as you are where they expect you to be, they’re happy. Move outside these areas, step off the path or outside the shed and suddenly everything becomes cautious. Nevertheless urban subjects should be quicker to adapt and its easier for you to perservere.
I know of only one comfortable, centrally heated hide complete with tea, coffee or beer, that normally has an assistant standing by and it’s free to use, without booking three hundred and sixty five days a year. My house. Before you consider going out into the cold or wet, exploit the indoor opportunities. Ideally, shoot from where you normally sit or stand, from your armchair in front of the patio window or out of the kitchen window over the washing up. In this way you’ll stand little or no chance of freaking your thoroughly accustomised subjects. Obviously clean both sides of the glass and try to find a scratch free section to line up with your lens. To minimise the risk of reflection keep the lens as close to the pane as possible, almost touching it is best. If you do need to use flash get an extension lead to run out through the window to the gun which you’ve taped to a second tripod or stand and clad in a polly bag to stop any rain getting in. This may take your subject a few days to get used to so flatten a couple of batteries flashing without film - by then all but the most timid visitors will be prepared to bask in a brief lightening strike. If your lenses won’t reach, or the bird table or set can’t be moved close enough to a window then you have two choices; firstly you could fire the camera by remote, trigger cables can be bought for most cameras, new or old. Manually focus on the spot where the subject will be and lock the focus off. Using auto exposure you should be confident enough not to keep running back and forth to the camera to make adjustments. A motor drive or an auto-winder is fairly essential, both fairly standard on today’s SLR’S. Use another polly bag to protect the camera from Mr. Moisture and a couple of elastic bands to stop it flapping in front of the lens. You can get perfect pictures using this approach but it’s always nerve racking and will test the most confident practitioner. One word of caution; if you have Grey Squirrels active in your garden then be careful what you leave out unattended and unprotected. Irrespective of value they will chew it and this will really upset you!
The second option is a case of moving outside yourself. Check the conservatory, greenhouse, garage, or outside toilet windows for prospective vantage points - if none are suitable build a hide out of anything. Remember it’s your garden, so what it looks like is up to you, make it dry, comfortable and flap proof so that when the wind blows it doesn’t startle your subject or expose you to it. Family camping tents, especially toilet tents, are easily ‘cannibalised’ or you can build more permanent structures from fencing panels – whatever, the choice is yours, and that of the family you have to live with. Remember they will have to barbecue, hang out the washing or play football around your structure.
Standing up straight or sitting down is one of the most comfortable options and if you have to spend hours waiting comfort is essential. But it can in turn often mean that you end up looking down on your small ground based subject, something which always appears unnatural and is therefore the mark of a lazy photographer. Get down to your subject’s level, if you lay down, support the camera on a bean bag, peer through the glass or over the pond, your perspective will make an immediate impact in a photograph. It increases the ‘wildness’ and reduces its domesticity.