Let me help you before you answer. I’m sure I’m a birder. For as long as I can remember, I have owned a pair of bins, a notepad and had a general sense of where I was going, and I was as happy as Larry. (Never met this Larry but I hear he is a rather nice chap)
Over time, I noticed a major change happening in the hides of this fine land. Large optics were being ‘adapted’ and some folk had even abandoned these tools of true birding for cameras with large…appendages screwed onto the fronts of them. There was barely room in a hide for the owners of these huge camera combinations let alone a serious birder trying desperately to hear a bird song above the sound of shutters firing at 8fps.
And some of the images people were getting were amazing. Shots of Snipe being carried away by a Sparrowhawk and a Herring Gull consuming a Little Auk are a couple that have stuck in my mind. And I remember when I was a boy and got my first camera, the first thing I tried to shoot was a group of Lapwing in the local field. I suppose it’s akin to the classic white hunter with one foot on the dying tiger having it recorded for posterity. Now of course, the need to photograph a real rarity is almost de rigueur, as rarity committees might not accept it.
So I reckon there are birders who have bins, scopes, flasks, rucksacks and tripods to carry round. There are amateur photographers with camera(s), lenses, rucksack, tripod, portable hide and a beanbag to carry. Our third group are wildlife photographers who carry all of the above but not a scope and then there is the one who can’t decide what they are. They were once a birder but now the need to get the perfect picture has super-ceded the need to get the perfect Pratincole.
I think I might be falling into this box and frankly, I don’t know if I can be saved.
First it was digi-scoping. This was a revelation. I got some good shots using this method and the camera was under £100. My adapter was homemade and although the results were mental, I liked it. Then I loved it. Then I couldn’t live without it. And if I went out and either forgot the camera/adapter or the battery was out of juice, it ruined the trip. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t capture the moment?
|Took forever to get this dig-scoping|
|Black-bellied Dipper, digiscoped with ease, Thetford|
You see once you have that good shot; it might be a common duck at the local pond or a nuthatch on your bird table but whatever it is, it’s there and it ain’t going away. In fact, you then have to better it or better still, get more species as good as it wherever you go. The skills improve and the traditional field craft gains a dimension as you learn to predict bird behaviour so that you’re prepared for the shot before the bird has even appeared.
It becomes a new form of listing; a new challenge that you can then pit yourself against fellow birders – the Essex Birdwatching Competition via Facebook is a great example of this. Nearly every website now displays libraries of images that have been uploaded by amateurs every year, these keep getting better and better...because the technology is developing faster and faster and more and more birders are slinging a camera over their shoulder instead of a scope.
I have now been given the opportunity to try out a DSLR camera with assorted lenses and I feel excited about it. I spend hours trying to get a Dartford Warbler digiscoping and it was a pain albeit a success eventually. I would never be able to take birds in flight digiscoping because I’m not as good or have the best kit as some digiscopers who are gods in this field. But I love birds and I love catching their behaviour and what is a blog without a few choice images to support it?
|DSLR, A different quality altogether and I don’t want to stop...|
|DSLR. A flight of fancy for me.|
So, I leave you with this question. A question that sorts the birders from the (David) Baileys.
If you had to chose between having a camera but only ever seeing the birds you have already seen till the day you die or never using a camera and seeing new birds every year, which would you choose?
If I had to, I’d choose the latter. But I think you can be both, a birder and a photographer and the two compliment each other enormously when you really think about it.