I’m reading a book given to me by my good friends in California, entitled ‘The delightful horror of family birding’ by Eli J. Knapp. It’s a great way of passing the lockdown time but it is also an excellent read. Eli is an American professor who teaches courses in ornithology and has a way with words. I recommend it to you. However, it is a small part of it which prompted me to write this blog.
On a particular trip, Eli’s students were encouraged to identify and record at least 100 different species of birds. Tess, one of his students, recorded exactly 100 and then stopped. By way of explanation, she submitted her record with a letter. In the letter, she explained, ‘I love birds, always have, but I like to know them – not just sight them and check them off a list’…’With that mindset, birding becomes a personal accomplishment rather than a relationship with nature. Where is the learning, the growing understanding..?’ This is just an extract from her letter but I hope you get the drift.
Tess’s letter struck a chord with me because, only yesterday, I updated my ‘Our tawny owls’ post where I confessed to watching them had become a bit of an obsession. And I agree wholeheartedly with Tess’s sentiments. I know people who would travel hundreds of miles to see a rare bird and tick it off their list. That’s absolutely fine if it’s what floats your boat. I would rather watch the blackbird in the garden as he stuffs his beak with worms, insects, raisins, seed, and still manages to shout as he scurries back to the nest, as he sings from any high perch just because he loves to, as he dips his body into the stream and lets the water flow over his back, as he defends his young from marauding magpies and as he stands outside the owls’ nest shouting his alarm call for no other reason than they are there, in his territory.
It’s over 10 years since I was in the Galapagos Islands with my old Minolta, grabbing pictures of anything that moved. When I finally got my website, I posted everything I had taken, in a way, no different to the birder ticking off his/her sightings. I had pictures of some interesting animals, but I didn’t know anything about them. Gradually, I became aware that there was much, much, more to getting a single image and then moving on. Now, I can spend hours watching the behaviour of one or more of God’s amazing creatures and hoping to capture that behaviour on my camera, as a still or as a movie, so that I can share it with others in the future. At a recent camera club meeting where I was speaking, I was asked whether I took a lot of movies. I explained that, just sometimes, a still image could not sufficiently portray the behaviour I had witnessed and was so intent on describing. Sometimes, you have to just experience it in movement. Recording behaviour on my camera is what ticks my box, what fills my head with new learning. Spending hours watching the tawny owls has taught me more than I ever knew about these amazing birds and I’m so glad I didn’t just tick them off and move on.
I hope that over the years, my website has developed into something more than just a record of birds, something you could just as easily find in any bird book. I hope it has become more like, as Tess explained, ‘a relationship with nature’ simply illustrated with my photography.