14 January, 2012

Look Away Now.

If you're suffering from insomnia, ignore the title. If not....

Right then, as threatened promised, here's a rant on fieldcraft, kit and urban birding. Probably not in any that order.

I've mentioned Urban Birding before - I do a lot of it on the Patch because large parts of said Patch is houses. It has extra challenges in addition to finding and identifying birds, as you also have to avoid getting mugged / arrested / beaten up / all three. Really its just a challenge that requires a different set of kit and style of fieldcraft. After all, what is fieldcraft but what you do to see the birds without disturbing others? So, no traditional camouflage, but instead 'urban camo' - ordinary wear, though black for preference. Big scopes over the shoulder are impractical anyway at the often close ranges, attract attention, and impede you in running like hell from chavs.. A little scope in a handholding case either on a strap over the shoulder [see below] or even tucked into a voluminous jacket pocket is the most you'll need if you have to look at offshore stuff. Better yet, just bins. Bins around the neck are the traditional thing, but that means they're on display for all and sundry and it is the sundry you have to think about. So, strap over the shoulder and bins tucked under the arm out of obvious sight. You lose a couple of seconds' response time, but, with a bulky jacket [especially a black one with black bins and strap] they're only going to be noticeable if you look for them and chavs rarely bother.

The fieldcraft aspect is partly normal street smarts in avoiding becoming a statistic - and very much varies depending where you are; I live in a vaguely rough area, next to a definitely rough area [though this is relatively speaking - I've never heard gunfire, for example]. If you live somewhere nice where you don't have to lock your doors, then good for you and don't worry. :) The other part is the tricky art of looking into other peoples' gardens. You know you're looking at that interesting little thing in that bush which might just be a rarity, but concerned homeowner just sees someone looking in their windows. With binoculars... Angles are the key thing - its like hunting, you make sure there's nothing in the line of fire. It is may be a bit tricky and a lot inconvenient, but even though you're not breaking the law [as long as you're not on private property, which of course I never condone, officer] its just good manners not to annoy people. Especially if they are likely to come and ask you what you're playing at, or get the police to do it for them..


Wandering back to perhaps less risky areas.. Kit. What do you take birding? Optics, notebook, ghilly suit, camera with a lens the size of your leg? Does it really matter? Take two birders meeting for the first time - what's the first thing, before a word is spoken? The bins. What are they? How are they worn? Does it really matter? 'Bins don't make the birder', of course. Kit doesn't make you a better birder, but it can make a difference. The Sharp-tailed Sand springs to mind - if you had a scope with an eyepiece of huge magnification, that could handle said magnification, then it was showing very well and clearly. Especially when the light was good. If not, you had a problem. Compare the White-rumped Sand - you needed a scope [and quick reactions..] but any scope would do. Thus it is with most waders. There is a reason why people will pay for expensive optics - it works better in worse conditions, and sometimes, just sometimes, that can be crucial.

The limitations of kit is also the main reason why photographers [and by that term, I mean someone whose primary optical system is attached to an SLR, maybe even without bins, as opposed to someone who has a camera. Its about intent.] are so vilified. Big lenses are not telescopes, they can give wonderful images but only at short ranges - no magnification to speak of. Thus a photographer has to get close. Very close. So we have at one end lenses stuck out of hide windows, and at the other trespassing, flushing of roosting owls and so on...

Once upon a time, you had to be very serious to get wildlife photos. The kit cost a fortune and was hard to use. Film, you see. Now pretty much anyone can get a great image, thanks to the wonders of digital. The trouble is, there's no long painful learning curve, no having fieldcraft hammered into you via painful expensive lessons. To get into photo range you have to be there first, hours early if you're lucky, days or even weeks if not. You need camo, hides, and the hard-won knowledge of how to use them. My little games of fieldcraft vs. Fieldfares pale in comparison.

Your average photographer sees the pictures online and in magazines and thinks 'I could do that'. Its a fine and worthy challenge, don't think I disagree with it, but it leads to the need to get that shot. To get close. And close may be too close. Only the bird knows, and there's no line in the sand. Hard 0/1; relaxed/stressed, there/gone. I am [as you know] very fond of repeating 'Patience, Persistence, and Fieldcraft' - fieldcraft is self-explanatory, patience is what you need to keep it when you're cold/wet/tired/eaten alive by bugs, and so on.. Persistence is partly what you need when you run out of patience, but also going back again and again and again when you fail. Everyone needs these, not just our friends with the lenses. Everyone can and has fucked up and flushed something by being careless [[Yes, that includes me - one time the Exe Western Sand went out to the mud to feed a bit early, due to me not keeping my head down. I'd assumed that as cyclists were going past without a problem, it and the Dunlin it was with were ok. Fool.]]

To finally get to the end.. Fieldcraft doesn't have to mean silly camo suits or gradually creeping hides. It can be as little as not showing a human silhouette to a bunch of geese in a field - walking past might be fine, but as soon as you stop and look, they think 'shotgun' - so sit down, crouch, kneel. Simples, yes? The difference between a quiet and noisy hide at Bowling Green - ie are the birds coming right up to it or staying on the far side of the channel? The difference between stopping at the edge of cover to look and listen, and going straight on. Sitting down [silhouettes again] and waiting versus walking around, even.

Ok, that's all. You can wake up now.


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