In my last post, I had a little whinge about how difficult it is to photograph birds unless you have huge lenses worth many £thousands.
Well, the whinge continues. Generally bird photography falls into two categories:
Aesthetic – where one is searching for the perfect image. Light, composition, sharpness are all super important. You generally need reasonable equipment and to be close to your subject, or professional standard kit and be up to medium distance from your subject. This often means that the best photos are often of relatively common and reasonably tame birds
Record – essentially just a step up from putting a tick in a box or writing the name of a bird in a notepad. The photo shows that you saw ‘x’ bird at ‘y’ location on ‘z’ date. If you are human as well and not an ornithological wizard, photos can be handy to verify a sighting or even identify a bird in the comfort of your own home hours or days later.
Unlike ‘Aesthetic’, ‘Record’ photos are generally squirrelled away in some hidden folder on your hard-drive and rarely will anyone else have the misfortune of squinting at the fuzzy and blurry dot which you have labelled as a bird. Unless, that is, the amateur photographer in question has decided to share his records/list of every bird through the year. Hence anyone who has read more than one or two blog posts this year by iago80 cannot help but have noticed the propensity to post some absolute bilge (case in point below).
I want to give a sense to you (excuse my patronisingly didactic tone, but I am assuming not all readers are birders or photographers) of what taking a photo of a bird in the wild is often like when out in the field. The photo below is the view West from Peacock Tower, the impressive three storey hide at the LWC. It’s a nice view over the main lake and grazing marsh. The inset photograph is taken from the same place but at maximum zoom with my 300mm lens. You may just about be able to make out a tiny splodge, through the wire fence in the middle of the image, that could be a bird if you really put your mind to it.
Now let’s take that zoomed in image and look a little closer at it (below). This time the inset image is a heavily cropped section of the main image. Now that splodge is a bit bigger and you may even say with confidence that it is a bird. But could you identify what species it is? Well, neither could I. Even through my binoculars it was tricky. But luckily, there was a chap on hand with a powerful spotting scope. I had a quick look and could then see that the splodge was in fact a Wheatear…
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Although you can’t see in the sorry excuse for a photograph, the Wheatear is actually a beautiful bird. They spend the summer generally breeding in grassy hilly parts of the country. As the breeding density map below shows – from the excellent Bird Atlas from the BTO (You would not even be able to guess at the scale of millions of hours of volunteer work it would have taken to compile that book) – Wheatears are generally not found in London.
However, when the birds’ internal alarm-clock/calendar goes off they fly South and often take a few re-fuelling stops. We are lucky that the LWC appears to have been chosen on this occasion as one such stop and us Londoners get to see a bird that normally only the Scots, Welsh, northerners, and Cornish get to enjoy.
By the way, that Wheatear, was the 94th species of bird I have photographed this year. About ten minutes later, I got my 95th (as you can see, I won’t be framing this photo above my mantelpiece either, although this time you can actually tell what the bird is):
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
That dinky little fellow (barely bigger than a Starling) was scuttling about on his own making nearby Coots look enormous.
And just to show you how my photos improve (although only marginally as even this photo is a little too noisy and blurry for my liking) when I get slightly closer to my subjects, here is a posing Heron:
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)