Grumpy Old Birder

Some snap­pers give the hobby a bad name and also dis­tress the birds, com­plains

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Bo Be­olens

Why some pho­tog­ra­phers dis­tress birds and give bird­watch­ing a bad name

THE PHOTO REV­O­LU­TION took off when we no longer needed to buy film. When I was given my birthday ‘box brownie’ it took me about two months to use up the first film. Eleven year olds in the 1960s didn’t take many snaps; when de­vel­op­ing the film cost nearly as much as the cam­era, I was never go­ing to be pro­lific. Nowa­days, the av­er­age 11-year-old takes more pic­tures in a week than I did in my first year of pho­tog­ra­phy. When I started bird­ing, only pros took pho­to­graphs of birds, need­ing pa­tience, a hide and a mort­gage-fi­nanced long lens. Some­time dur­ing the last decade, bird­ing seems to have be­come more a pho­to­shoot, with every man and his dog car­ry­ing a tele­photo lens and digis­cop­ers us­ing their smart phones. Fo­rums, blogs and mail­ing groups abound with bird pho­to­graphs rang­ing from the breath­tak­ing to the frankly ris­i­ble. Many seem to have for­got­ten that high tech and a steady hand may give a crisp im­age, but doesn’t turn you into an artist. How­ever, some­times just hav­ing the means to take a pho­to­graph turns peo­ple into bird­ing pa­parazzi of the worst kind. Our celebri­ties are the scarce or va­grant birds mi­grat­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion or blown here by a storm. They now get hounded from bush to bush like a drunken star­let in a low-cut gown. This in­de­fen­si­ble be­hav­iour oc­ca­sion­ally hits the head­lines or even re­sults in un­pleas­ant con­fronta­tions, but that’s not the worst of it. Un­for­tu­nately, such va­grant birds are prob­a­bly not des­tined to live long and most will never get home. What greatly and in­creas­ingly both­ers me is that fieldcraft is dis­ap­pear­ing, along with courtesy and com­mon sense. Every day birds get pushed off their perches by cam­era-tot­ing bird­ers. In breed­ing sea­son, I fear for the Cuck­oos and Tur­tle Doves that at­tract this new breed of shoot­ers. Last year, I watched a cam­er­a­tot­ing ig­no­ra­mus walk the length of a chained-off path to take pic­tures of a Bearded Tit. I say ig­no­ra­mus, as he was bliss­fully un­aware that what he was do­ing was not only bad form, but il­le­gal. I’ve of­ten been asked by non-bird­ers if I take pho­tos. Would they ask golfers if they take pho­tos of golf balls down a hole? Pho­tog­ra­phy is a com­pletely sep­a­rate ac­tiv­ity. More­over, we need a law to en­force the coun­try code, and a ban on cam­eras in breed­ing sea­son. Most bird­ers who take up pho­tog­ra­phy wouldn’t dream of do­ing any­thing to harm a bird, but pho­tog­ra­phers who take pic­tures of birds seem un­aware of the harm they can do. I re­cently drove a mile-long re­serve en­trance track with reg­u­lar signs telling peo­ple to use the car as a hide and stay in their ve­hi­cle. My re­ward was five Short-eared Owls hunt­ing to­gether, un­til two other cars pulled up. One lady hopped out of her car and lent over the roof to take a pic­ture. The other id­iot leapt out of his car pulling up the tail­gate to get his long lens out. Of course, by the time they were ready, the birds had flown. Bo Be­olens runs fat­birder.com and other web­sites. He has writ­ten a num­ber of books.

Pho­tog­ra­phers who take pic­tures of birds seem un­aware of the harm they can do

RE­SPECT

Gen­uine bird­ers who take pho­tos tend not to dis­turb their sub­ject

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