Thursday, 1 December 2011

Birding When You Can't Bird: Part 2 - Photography

There sure are a lot of bird photos out there on the web.  My Google Reader feed brings me about 70 birding blogs from around the web and, on this random Wednesday in November, that meant well over 100 photos of birds.  Some are spectacular, some are informative and, (like many of my shots) some are "identification only" images of negligible artistic merit.  As has been recently pointed out by some bloggers, photography is only one aspect of birding and not every bird photographer would necessarily consider themselves a birder.  Sometimes these different values can clash in the field - often as mere irritation but occasionally as inappropriate or unethical behaviour.  If you are a birder first and foremost - and I mean that in the sense of someone whose primary purpose is to locate, identify and observe birds in the wild with the goal of learning about their behaviour and distribution - then what role does photography play in your experience?  I offer three ideas, and some places to pursue them online.

1) Practice Makes Perfect
Quick! How many shorebird species?
As I have repeatedly mentioned in the last few months, I don't have as much time as I would like to get out birding.  Even if you are fortunate enough to have time, how prepared are you for trips beyond your regular birding turf?  With a continuous stream of photographs pouring through an RSS reader (a what?) you can be exposed to literally hundreds of identification challenges every day.  I'm certain from my own experience that exposure to images taken at different times of year, in different locations and contexts can significantly improve rapid identification skills.  To engage with this learning process I try to make sure that every photo I see online of a North American bird is identified and that I understand the reasons for that identification.  This improvement even goes beyond field marks and touches on the elusive birding by impression ("jizz"), which can be conveyed by many photos of a species viewed over time.

Want more "Practice Makes Perfect"?
2) Let The Memory Live Again
This is a very bad photo.  It is also a life bird.
I saw a Long-tailed Duck in Calgary.  I had never seen one before anywhere.  I hadn't been birding in weeks.  Everytime I look at that photo it brings a little smile to my face.

Keeping a collection of bird photos can be a great way to reminisce about birding experiences and reflect on trips.  Improving those photos can itself be a motivator to get out birding.

Want tips on helping your birding memories live again?
  • I've started using Flickr which provides a great way to share and organize photos, as well as a mapping tool where you can pinpoint the location of your birding adventures.
  • Birds are often very small and often very far off.  Taking photos through your spotting scope is a way to get record/ID shots and sometimes some great images too.  The topic of digiscoping is too large to tackle in this post and could have it's own blog.  In fact here's a good one!
3) Pure Inspiration
And so we come full circle - back to the spectacular.  Just today there were was inspiration to go out and look for Rough-legged Hawks.  And there was inspiration to save up and visit Peru again - these photos were taken by a Canadian birder who is featured on, alongside David Lily's work.  

We may lack the experience, equipment, time, patience, motivation or money to take these kind of images ourselves but they capture some of the experience of watching these birds in person.  Whether we are birders, birders who photograph, photographers who bird, or some other hybrid thereof, images from the fuzzy to fantastic and from the mundane to the magical can connect us in unique ways to wildlife.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post David, thank you very much for the mention of my blog. Your picture of the Long-tailed Duck reminds me of a photo I took of a Long-tailed Duck in Toronto last year, It brings back some very nice memories too.