Monday, 9 November 2009

On binless birding

I'm just back from Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. For all my wistful longing to live by the sea, having this very good reserve of woodland and water just 20 minutes' walk away is pretty sweet. Early sunshine was promised so I took the D300 and Bigmos, and left my bins at home. An experiment, I suppose.

The lakes were shrouded in photogenic mist, which softened the outlines of the Coots and made them look exotic and interesting. Besides Coots, there were Gadwalls, Teals, Tufties, Shovelers, Lapwings, gulls and geese. From Tyler Hide I photographed what was probably a Snipe, and had I had my bins there would have been no 'probably' about it but it was just too far away for the Bigmos. (A zoomed-in look at the photo later revealed that it was indeed a Snipe, and moreover there were three more Snipes in the frame as well). Had I not been sitting in the hide at the time I probably wouldn't have bothered to even lift the camera. That was, I found, the key difference between birding with bins and birding with a DSLR+huge lens. The camera gave me epic back-ache. Holding it up soon gave me epic arm-ache. Therefore I just didn't pick it up unless I saw something within photographable range. As a result, I saw way fewer birds than usual. (To add insult to injury, the few photos I did take were not very good. I like the zigzag reflections of these Shovelers but it's really a fairly horrible photo. Other, potentially better pics were spoiled by overexposure, which is my fault for failing to RTFM.)

In the hides, it was great. Especially Willow Hide, where Teals and Gadwalls were feeding around lots of exposed mud very close at hand. Walking about, I hardly photographed a thing, because I kept accidentally switching off the AF and I was too slow to unlock the zoom mechanism. Practice would help with all that of course, and more gym visits with the heaviness issues, but I really missed my bins and there's no way I could carry both on a decent birding walk, am just too much of a wimp. A landscape or macro lens, maybe... a 150-500mm - nope. I have a renewed appreciation of Rob's sterling work with the camera, and that of other bird photographers.

If birders became reproductively isolated from the rest of humanity, I think there would be a strong selective pressure in favour of bigger, stronger physiques. Anyone born with an extra arm or two would have a massive advantage. Give it a few million years and we could see birders effortlessly carrying scope on tripod, DSLR with huge lens on another tripod, 10x42 bins, easel and paints, emergency wellies, a comfy chair and a large packed lunch. Until such time as the ability to locate, identify and photograph problematic Locustellas and Phylloscs becomes a factor in human reproductive success, I suppose we will have to rely on the optics companies to carry on making things smaller, sharper and more powerful. Cheaper would be nice, too...

Anyway, the reserve was good today, with wildfowl numbers building up on the lakes and lots of passerine activity - for example heard numerous Siskins and there were parties of Long-tailed Tits all over the place. Next time it will be bins and sketchpad all the way.

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