Tuesday 31 October 2017

Patch Stats Update

God I am loving the local birding at the moment, there is expectation and mostly interest every single day. Today was the turn of Bullfinch to find its way onto my patch year list, a species I think I missed last year. There have been a number of indications that this enigmatic species was coming in as part of the same invasion of Hawfinches we are currently seeing, and Nick and Bob's records from the area around Long Wood had sounded very encouraging in terms of birds sticking around. I failed in an hour-long trudge at the weekend, but this morning birds were far more vocal and I heard that soft piping and got a glimpse of  a male in some dense foliage. I put the news out and at that very moment Bob came around the corner, so I silently motioned where it was. He skirted around the other side and came face to face with it. but it had disappeared by the time I joined him. Nevermind! Hopefully it sticks and James can get it/them (as there may be a pair) at the weekend - he needs it for a long-awaited patch tick and I bet he is chomping at the bit!

Other than this success, which sees me hit 110 and is thus my fifth highest patch total since I started, it was relatively sedate. No large numbers of Wood Pigeons, no huge thrush totals. Instead I was content with a couple of Redpoll and a flock of seven Brambling. I like Brambling - not only are they good looking, but they also make a unique sound when they fly over. As I mentioned the other day, flyover finches that make no sound as they zip through are hugely annoying. Even some that do make sounds can be annoying, but Bramblings leave you in no doubt, and for that they should be commended.

I am aware that I have not posted a recent photo for an age. This is because viz-mig does not lend itself to the kind of photography I enjoy, and when I do not enjoy something it generally does not feature. Work is the exception to this rule. So rather than blurry underexposed shots of what I am calling a Hawfinch, you get nothing at all. It is for the best, trust me. I would love to be able to document my mornings out on the Flats in a suitable manner, but I just cannot get excited by record shots.

Here, what about my breakfast? This is the vizmig fuel taken on before setting out each morning. This was plum I believe, with yoghurt and granola, and is now my go-to morning sustenance. I blame my recent trip to California for this conversion, previously (and it shows) I was all about the bacon sarnie. These are now reserved only for Fridays when I get to the office. All other days and it is this. If you have yet to see a Hawfinch, it could make all the difference. 

Monday 30 October 2017

Another Hawfinch

I am sorry about this patch exuberance, it will stop soon I promise. Today I took advantage of the clock change to spend an extra hour out on Wanstead Flats, and in contrast to yesterday it was excellent. The chief excellence flew east at 0721, a chunky bird making a call that I initially just could not place. It appeared to come from the south before looping back around and heading off east towards Manor Park, and both Bob and I got on it pretty early in its trajectory. As I followed it around and into the lovely early sunlight it  dawned on me that it had absolutely enormous wingbars. At this moment Bob’s brain matched the call to the Hawfinch that he seen and heard earlier in the week. Despite having Hawfinch on the brain, my own revision has clearly not sunk in deep enough yet, but yes, it had been those subtle “seeps”, and they were ultimately very helpful.

So although this is only one bird and the flock on Saturday numbered nine, in my own mind I actually feel a lot better about this one having been able to watch it for longer whilst hearing it call, thus concluding on the ID myself rather than rely on others as well. It does also reinforce, to me at least, that the ID of small birds in flight that you are not hugely familiar with remains very difficult indeed – you have so little time to process what you are seeing and hearing, and therefore to know what features you need to focus in on and pull out before it has gone. In this instance despite having the bird in view for probably ten seconds, it was not until nearly the very last moment that my brain was able to recognise the enormous wingbars for what they were– before that I had just a shape making a noise really, with no features other than a thought that it was perhaps on the large size. I suppose that without thinking about it most of my available brain is busy ruling out all the expected species that I see regularly, going through the various thrushes, pipits, buntings and finches that are expected here. Meanwhile another part of my brain is screaming that it doesn’t recognize the call and something is not quite right here, but it seems that the process of elimination must take priority somehow. Luckily there was just enough time left to get some of the other bits in before the bird disappeared from view, else it may have been another of those all too frequent, “well I know what it wasn’t but unfortunately I don’t know what it is either!” which is no good to anyone.

I think it proves that the successful identification of birds has to be deep-rooted, you can’t just take a field guide and learn it, you have to be out living and breathing it and gradually you just become pretty familiar with the regular birds where you live, with the exception of being able to describe a Blue Tit of course. That then helps with the identification of those birds that are not as regular in that it gives you more clues and more time, but clearly doesn’t solve the problem completely. How does one get familiar with everything on the British list? Not by sticking religiously to a single inland patch I suspect! Equally how do some people get so good at digging out rarities on the coast every autumn, when they don’t see those birds day in day out as part of the rest of their birding year?

My conclusion is that they’re just a lot better than me. And that they must never be allowed to visit Wanstead unsupervised!

Sunday 29 October 2017

What a difference a day makes

I messed up the clock change a bit but still got out at a relatively decent time. However what a difference a day makes! This morning was abysmal in comparison - I suppose this is just the nature of the patch, but it won't take many mornings like this to convince me that staying in bed is the preferred option. 

There were a handful of Woodpigeon, low hundreds probably, and then very small numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare. Finch action was limited to a couple of Redpoll and then perhaps a dozen Chaffinch and Goldfinch. Highly boring in other words, not remotely on a par with other mornings. I wish I was better at predicting what weather patterns result in decent viz-mig, it would be far less effort and ultimately more rewarding just to go out on the good days, knowing I was missing nothing on the days where I either blissfully asleep, or eating warm toast and drinking coffee. As it is I kind of feel I need to be out all the time lest something pass me by, and after all there are plenty of relatively easy ticks that would take me to the landmark 150 for the patch. When those Glossy Ibis fly over, as surely one day they will, I don't want to be hearing about it from someone else!

Those 148 have taken some getting - something like 13 years of wandering around the local area now. My first few seasons here I was pleased with a year list of 80, whereas nowadays 100 is always expected. Nonetheless it wasn't until my fifth year hear that my overall patch list reached 100, and it was another year before my list reached the stage where it couldn't be exceeded annually. I remember being flabbergasted seeing Vince's Dagenham Chase list, thinking I would never get there in a million years, but all it is really is a factor of time. Those newer patch-workers that started perhaps a few years after I did are mostly a few species behind simply because they just haven't had the extra years of tramping that I have. I suspect it all evens itself out in the end though, as it's just not possible to sustain a level of, say, five new patch birds a year. And so ultimately whether you've worked a patch for 10 or 20 years probably doesn't result in much if any difference. Other than the number of highly boring days like today that you have had to endure!

October 2014 - how long will this be a blocker for?

Saturday 28 October 2017

Right time, right place. Hawfinch falls.

Deep down, and despite missing out earlier this week, I knew I would see Hawfinch on the patch this year, I just wasn't expecting success so soon. This morning however was the morning. In fairness it had started well, with three Fieldfare (my first this autumn) coming out of Long Wood, along with the now familiar site of the first early morning Woodpigeons starting to head south. These followed the same pattern as yesterday, with low-flying birds in streams more than flocks, gradually escalating to more tightly packed birds higher up as the morning progressed. 

Bob and I soon found ourselves at the VizMig point, debating whether in fact we should be further towards Esso Copse where apparently most patch Hawfinches have been seen. We elected nonetheless to remain further south, and were soon spotting loads of birds in a very cool manner. We also spotted Tony picking his way west from his usual starting point over near Alex, but were a little surprised when rather than making a beeline for us he instead looped down towards the logs of happiness. In the event we were glad that he did. As Bob and I headed down Centre Path to investigate a possible "chack" from the brooms, Tony shouted out extremely loudly as a small group of birds flew over him and towards us. They went over James first, and then me. If I am honest I did not get a lot on them as it was over in an instant, but alerted by the shout I saw roughly eight chunky finches with distinctly wide wing bars flying away to the north-west. They had passed directly over Tony however who was in no doubt as to what he had seen, and my excited shouts of "What did you make of that?!" elicited exactly the response I had been hoping for. He had counted nine birds, none calling, but hopefully these are just the start of what is surely a bumper year for this species. I am not at all familiar with this species really, and in fact consulting the spreadsheet of happiness my total previous count is only 27 birds - my first at Lynford Arboretum in Norfolk where I imagine many people 'tick' them, and then subsequently a few in the New Forest, a handful of Shetland migrants, and more recently 10 birds at Braxsted in Essex. In a local context I've only ever seen one bird, at Danemead Nature Reserve up in the Herts sector when I was attempting a London year list in 2010, so all things considered this is a pretty special species as far as I'm concerned. I have seen five times as many Yellow-browed Warblers! They're subtle though, and unlikely to be seen unless you specifically go looking for one so I'm not wholly surprised by the low count. Despite the less than wonderful views today that left James and I wanting more, this is a most pleasing patch tick that I have been lusting after for several weeks now, so well done to TB for being in exactly in the right place and for shouting as loudly as he could so that we could all get on them. 

This was but one brief moment in a rather good morning. Whilst the Woodpigeon count probably only got to about 2700 which was significantly fewer than yesterday, the count of other species more than compensated. Collectively we also recorded about 230 Fieldfare, 300 Redwing, 150+ Starling, 200 Chaffinch, 20 Meadow Pipit, 20 Goldfinch, 10 Greenfinch, 9 Siskin, 3 Redpoll and a Brambling - all in all an excellent vizmig session with seven species of finch. Shame I couldn't be arsed going over to Jubilee for Linnet really, nor could I find the possible Bullfinch that Bob had heard in Long Wood as he headed over to the watchpoint. Still, an amazing day that has finally repaid the effort I have put in lately, and my patch list moves on to 148 (109 for the year) with the addition of Hawfinch. It's a slow march towards the magic 150, I wonder what it will be, and when?

Not in Wanstead obviously, but look at the size of it vs a Chaffinch!

Friday 27 October 2017

Woodpigeon spectacular

I hit Wanstead Flats again first thing this morning, with the aim of addressing the Hawfinch-shaped gap on my patch list. I was only away for a matter of days, but predictably one of those was the one when some Hawfinches flew over. I console myself with the fact that had I been in the country I would have just been sitting down at my desk in Canary Wharf as Bob and Nick were high-fiving each other near Long Wood. I think that would have been a lot worse. Anyway to cut a long story short, once again I didn't see any. Fine, I'm used to this being the result of a morning on the patch. However, what the patch lacked in Hawfinches it more than made up for in Woodpigeons. I realise that a Woodpigeon and a Hawfinch are in no way equivalent in quality. But how many Woodpigeons are there to a Hawfinch? What's the exchange rate? 100? No. 500? Nope. What about 1000? Personally I think the pendulum is swinging at this point. 5000? I think we're there.

In short it was spectacular, and no words or photos (of which there are none) can adequately convey quite how magnificent a sight the sky was this morning. I've waxed lyrical about the magic of mass bird movement before, notably about Lapwings and Hirundines, and this morning was another one of those that is right up there. I gave up counting, I had to, but there were thousands upon thousands. When I lifted up my bins upwards to attempt to count a near flock, the sky behind them was also filled with multiple more distant flocks. And I'm not talking the odd 10 or 20, I'm talking about hundreds. They were coming over 200 at a time, 250. I counted in blocks where I could but I was not equal to the task. I am conservatively recording 5000-6000 birds in the space of little over an hour. It was probably a lot more than that but I like to remain cautious, even with dirt birds.

At first - just after dawn - the birds were low, most likely just having come out of roost locally. Half an hour later the first high flocks started coming through and then they just didn't stop. Every time I looked up I could see tightly packed groups of birds, stretching to the far horizon. In front of me, behind me, a broad front passing over London. Howard, watching at Rainham, reported the same. Tony, in a traffic jam on the way to work could also not help but look at the sky. The craziest count I saw came from Darryl Spittle in Wales who estimated over 200,000 birds in nearly 6 hours of watching. Mostly I don't give Woodpigeons a second glance, but when there is a mass movement (of anything really) you cannot help but be wowed and amazed by the spectacle. How did they form up? Why is today the day? Where did they come from, and where are they going? So many questions, but best not spend too long dwelling on what you will never know and instead just gratefully witness a marvel of nature. I was deeply pleased that despite some mild jet lag I had got up and out, it was one of those mornings which I will remember for a long time. This is what patch-working is all about.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Along for the ride

It has been many many years since I deliberately set foot near a horse. It has been even longer since I sat on one, somewhere between 27 and 28 years to be vaguely precise. I was on a follow-up to my school's GCSE german exchange, staying with my friend Martin. He lived in the Odenwald, near Heidelberg, and his family owned a number of Icelandic horses. Flush with the optimism of youth, back then I thought nothing of going out with Martin for an entire day, packing all we needed in saddle bags, and heading off at dawn into the vast forest, returning only as the sun had set, the horses on autopilot guiding us flawlessly home. They were fun days, and I have no memory of aches. 

Despite these happy memories, the intervening years have seen me gradually become anti-horse. I don't know why exactly, but themes include dirty, smelly, large, uncomfortable and dangerous. Horse lovers I am sure will be aghast. Now as regular readers know I use my children as excuses to travel I like to take my children on trips abroad to broaden their horizons. These are most often short trips to Europe, but we also occasionally head further afield. I took Henry to Texas to explore the great outdoors, albeit that this involved a lot of enforced birding, and earlier this year I attempted to take Charlotte to the Florida Keys on a snorkeling trip. The incompetence of British Airways put paid to that, but we are rebooked on a similar excursion next year. She loves water, always has, and she will love the warm Caribbean sea and the multitude of colourful fish. And so to Kate - what is it that she would really like to do above anything else? Ride horses. Ah. Ummm. Hmm. OK. So a trip to a horse place where she can ride and I can bugger off birding. America? Excellent. I booked a place in Georgia that looked properly horsey, and when filling out the paperwork stated that only one of us would be riding. Clue: not me.

Not so fast cowboy! Kate is under 14, which meant that unless she is accompanied by an adult she would be confined to the horse rink or whatever it is called. You know, the boring sawdust paddocky bit. Trotting around in circles. Gah! Right, OK then, I too will get on a horse. Dammit. But Kate has to clean it. Brush it. Whatever. I'm just coming along for the ride, so to speak. Hopefully my horse will have enough sense to just follow her horse. Slowly.

Bloody hell horses are huge. As we walked down to the barn after lunch on our first afternoon all I could see were massive horses. They're measured in hands apparently, which is ridiculous - it should be in storeys. I confessed immediately to having zero horse-riding experience so as be given the most confiding and docile animal possible. This was Tiffy.

Tiffy. Front view.

OK, so grab a rope from over there and go and get her, she's in the last field down there, and then bring her on back here...


I have to get my horse? Next you're going tell me I have to put the saddle on and then climb on myself.

...and then you want saddle #9 and one of the red blankets. And her halter is on a hook with her name on it.

[note: read this with a southern accent y'all]

To cut a long story short, I now know how to fetch a horse, lead a horse, put a saddle and halter on a horse, and then adjust the stirrups. I am also not yet so feeble that I can't get on it myself. Left leg in the stirrup and haul on up. Pull the reins to the right to make it turn it right, left for left, kick your heels into its sides to make it go, another kick to make it go faster, pull the reins up to stop, pull them a bit again to reverse. Simple, even for a novice like me. A joystick would be easier - you could mount one on the pommel - but until somebody invents a digital horse interface we're stuck with the old fashioned approach.

All ahead one third

I'll tell you what, it was OK. In fact I would go as far as to say it was good. Not that this was my holiday of course, it was genuinely all about Kate and she loved it, but all my fears evaporated after the first ride. For starters western saddles are built for the ample american backside and are thus very comfortable indeed. I had anticipated a bow-legged limp back to the ranch house every night, but not at all. Only after day 3 could I really detect even the mildest of ache, and I got out of bed each morning without so much as a groan. Most amazingly I even started patting my horse. Scratched its chin, tickled its ears, that sort of thing. She really was a lovely animal, uncomplaining, soft and gentle. Enormous for sure, but with a temperament that belied her size. I'm not saying that riding is my new all-consuming hobby, but I would not be adverse to going on another trip built specifically around horses. As a means for getting close to nature it is right up there - excellent 4x4 offroad ability - so perhaps somewhere with spectacular scenery and nightly camping on the trail. I am sure this must exist. And I could take my new hat....

Wednesday 25 October 2017


All of last week I was up before first light and out birding. I didn't do this in spring, I certainly didn't do it in September, so what changed? Hawfinches is what changed, somewhat of a national invasion, and the thought of a getting full fat (in several ways) patch tick could not hold me back. So last week saw the most dedication that I have shown on patch for many years. And naturally I failed completely.

Throughout the week the avian world was, from my perspective, divided into two types of birds, Hawfinches and Not Hawfinches. As mentioned I saw none of the former at all, but I did see lots of Not Hawfinches as they streamed overhead. My Brambling count has increased markedly, indeed so has my count of most finches that were identifiable. Is there anything more irritating than the silent silhouette of a finch going over? I mean I could go with defaults, call them all Chaffinches, but that would be weak. They probably were mostly all Chaffinches as it happens, but I like to there to be a little mystery in birding. And anyway, I was able to assign them all to Not Hawfinches. Lots of Meadow Pipits, lots of Woodpigeons, and increasing numbers of Redwings meant that the mornings were not without entertainment, and as Bob and I struggled each day we were maintained by the thought of how noble it was. Proper birding.

I could not last the pace of course, and buggered off to America on Saturday after another dud dawn session (more on this later, decidedly non-birding), but Bob persevered, and eventually they fell to him and Nick a couple of days ago. I like to think that at least I had the right idea, even if I was not able to convert my inklings into inked in. I still feel like I have a chance though, Hawfinches are being seen as flyovers all over the place and with some regularity, and I am already on my back home, there to take up my position at the Vizmig Point.

Not Hawfinch at Canary Wharf 

Monday 16 October 2017

Ophelia please darken my door

Well the old neighbourhood just ain't the same. Look at this - this was taken out of my office window at about 4pm, but it appeared to be verging on dusk such was the effect of the dusty and smoky atmosphere brought northwards by Ophelia. It started early afternoon when things began to appear a little hazy outside. I went to a meeting where I couldn't really just stare out of the window and when I came back it was verging on apocalyptic. Very strange indeed and I'm a bit miffed that I didn't have a real camera with me that would have interpreted it rather more accurately than my phone which was doing its best to turn the scene into a sunny Samsung day! I think I managed to get vaguely get it to stop mucking about with it, but all I can say is that it if wasn't like the below then it was damn close. Everything was yellow, a dull sepia, as if somebody had stretched a pair of tights over the sun. The effect was quite amazing actually, one of those events that we may not witness again. An hour later it had cleared up considerably, the band of polluted air taken further north, but I imagine that there will be all sorts of amazing photos from up and down the country that emerge in the coming days.

The funny thing is that Canary Wharf didn't really appear any more windy than normal, and sitting here typing this at home it seems to be pretty calm outside. As a patch worker this is a bit of a shame, as I was hoping for the Bald Ibis/Gannet double tomorrow morning. On that subject, the patch was not on fire this morning in the same way as yesterday. From dawn to around 8.15 there were quite a lots of Wood Pigeons, up to c80 Redwings and four late Swallow, but the big numbers of finches just weren't there. Nor sadly the Woodlarks. Still, I am up to 107 for the year, which is already better than 2016 by one, and there is still quite a lot of time left in which to add to it. Woodcock is probably the only regular bird missing, and Bullfinch if I'm lucky, anything else will have to come with a fair slice of jam I suspect. Speaking of which, Hawfinch would be just fine.

Sunday 15 October 2017

A momentary lapse

It had been a wonderful morning on Wanstead Flats - two Short-eared Owls, a couple of Brambling and stacks of other great viz-mig. Then an aberration occurred, and shortly after I found myself looking at this.

From certain vantage points, Wanstead Flats can look pretty amazing.
And then this.


Ok so this isn't Wanstead, or even close to Wanstead. It is in fact Wales, and this is the Rock Thrush that for some reason I was actually a bit miffed I didn't get to see yesterday. This is my first proper twitch since November last year, and confess I really enjoyed it. Apart from the seven hours in the car of course. Unfortunately Wales is a really long way away, but for whatever reason, and being somewhat bloody-minded, I decided that I could bear it for the sake of this bird. Being a total wuss I only left on positive news though, which meant I didn't get there until about 2ish which could have backfired rather badly. However it also meant that I got a decent session on the patch, which netted the two year ticks above and was hugely enjoyable. I did however miss out on two Woodlark shortly after I departed, which caused no end of local chortling. Looking at the above photo, I think I'm fine with it....

Am I restarting twitching? No. I just wanted to do something different, and I wanted a day out. As it happened I got the best of both worlds, and the welsh scenery is nothing short of magnificent. I've seen some birds in god-awful places, and I've seen some birds in some spectacular places. This is right up there with some of the best of them, and apparently only just down the road from where I saw a Marmora's Warbler back in 2010.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Abiding memory of confiding

I nearly considered going on a twitch this weekend. Happily Mrs L was already out so instead I took my daughters swimming whilst all my mates filled their boots with Rock Thrush, so my Saturday is mine again. However it did get me thinking about how I did actually enjoy seeing rare birds a few years ago. I am not sure why this isn’t the case anymore, perhaps it is just because any rarity these days is likely to be a complete scrum. Did twitching become more popular all of a sudden? Or is it that digital photography’s mass appeal has made it to birds? I am not sure, but a twitch these days holds little appeal - as the recent pathetic scenes at a Norfolk PG Tips only served to confirm. I didn’t go and I am glad that I didn’t.

A few years ago however I did go, and I have some fabulous memories that are dominated by the bird and not by out-of-control crowds. The Steppe Grey Shrike in Lincolnshire comes somewhere near to the top of my list. It was a long day – nearly nine years ago now - starting out by driving to Yorkshire. It sounds crazy but looking back it was kind of normal. Anyhow, we had  successfully seen a Two-barred Crossbill on a farm somewhere and having dipped a Pied Wheatear at a Caravan Park near Bempton we were headed back home via what we had heard was another decent bird, a Steppe Grey Shrike. This is a very similar to a Great Grey Shrike (excubitor), but actually falls under the Southern Grey Shrike (meridionalis) group – this one is known as pallidirostis and is a paler version that breeds in Central Asia, a seriously long way away. Back then I don’t think I knew any of this, all I knew was that it was a rare bird, a Shrike, and that I liked both of those things.

We drove through the endless flat landscape of Lincolnshire fields until we found the spot. A few cars were parked up, and a few hundred yard away we could see a small line of birders along the edge of a field. Optics unpacked, I slung my scope and tripod over my shoulder for I was a proper birder back then, and we made our way out to join them. As we came along the muddy margin the bird flew directly towards us, past us, and landed on somebody’s head. Gah!!

It was astonishing, it really was. For the best part of an hour this crazy little bird used people, scopes, tripods, camera bags, you name it, as perches from which to hunt. It had clearly never seen people before and was completely unafraid. I had never seen anything like it, and to this day it probably remains the least wary bird I have ever seen anywhere. I was spellbound and captivated – moments like this are so very very rare, and I knew then I would never forget it. And that holds true today – it is still one of my most fondly remembered birding moments. I’ve seen rarer birds, I’ve seen many Shrikes, but this one is still top of the heap. Being a massive fan of social media, I tweeted out a random photo of it last week and clearly it struck a chord as people from far and wide responded that they too remember the event incredibly clearly.

I've included a couple of photos from the day. Back then I wasn’t really very skilled and did not understand that pointing a camera directly at the sun wouldn’t likely result in a decent picture. Julian Bhalerao however did a far better job, and sent me this photo after the event of the bird perched on my scope with a very youthful looking me behind it.

Thursday 12 October 2017

I must be dreaming

It has started. Remarkably a couple of days ago saw my first direct photo sale outside of printed publications. Two landscape photos of Wanstead Flats have been requested as prints from the my website, the appropriately-named www.justbirdphotos.com. The one with only birds on it, ahem. They’re of the copses at dawn, and I think they will look rather nice printed up. They’re not going far, the lucky owner seems to be pretty local, which makes sense given the subject matter. I am dead chuffed, this is exactly what I had hoped for. Well, I say that, but a 20m x 20m canvas of a Wheatear to hang from The Shard would have been quite nice…. Anyway. I can’t retire yet is the bottom line, but I am a little bit closer and I am very grateful. Small beginnings and all that.

There are number of other things I am exploring whilst awash with enthusiasm. The first is an exhibition, which despite the outlay could generate some interest and potentially some momentum. I think I have enough images now that are of a sufficiently decent quality to potentially present something rather nice. No gulls obviously. And then the elephant in the room is whether photography tuition is something I might explore? One on one, my full undivided attention for an hour or for a morning on how to get the best out of your camera and the available light locally. Or potentially abroad, where the opportunities for bird photography are far better. I’m lucky/stupid enough to own two prime lenses suitable for bird photography, and I’ve seen first hand the effect that using one of these for the first time has on somebody used to something much smaller. That smile that spreads across their face as they realise that the kind of photos they had dreamed of might actually be possible after all.

Actually perhaps it is me that is dreaming, I have no time for any of this!

Sunday 8 October 2017

My desired life - you can help!!

I work in a bank. In an ideal world I would not work in a bank, I would spend every single day behind a camera, taking photos of birds, plants, landscapes, cities. Anything but people. I could get quite good I reckon, practice makes perfect and all that. The reason I don't do this and that idealism is not reality is that I would be destitute. Utterly poverty-stricken. Over the years I have perhaps earned a few hundred pounds from bird photography. A couple of magazine covers, a few quarter pages, a handful images in books that more often than not get me a free book. You can't eat books. 

I am not sure how you earn a living wage from photography. I think you have to run tours, have to learn how to put the clueless in situations where they cannot possibly fail. I have not tried, but am not sure I could hack it. It is the stuff of waking nightmares surely? But you have to start somewhere I suppose. So....

For many years now I have had a separate website devoted to galleries of my photos, generally what I consider the cream of what I have taken. I am pretty ruthless as to what makes it on there, and I frequently have a massive self-critique session and cull a few more. No doubt there are a few duffers on there that I am too emotionally attached to to get rid of, but largely I think they represent the best of the last six or seven years of not inconsiderable effort. Taking photographs of birds is not easy, in fact I would put it out there that it is bloody difficult. Sometimes hours of planning fizzle out into nothing and you get up from the mud in depair. Equally sometimes five random minutes can produce something sensational and you have to pinch yourself that it really happened.

Up until now my website has just been galleries - a visual feast for the casual visitor. However I have discovered that there is a free add-on where you can market your work. I've decided to give it a go, nothing ventured and all that. I've spent a bit of time revamping it, uploading far larger files that will reproduce nicely in a variety of formats - most are 4000 pixels wide, that's massive. Now I know that birders are notoriously tight, fine, I accept that. But think about it? Only a small number of people need order a couple of prints and that could be just the start I need. Have you any idea how much my lens cost? It's ridiculous, honestly absurd. Quite how so many people seem to have one I just can't fathom. Anywhere you go and there are tons. Tons that are seeing a poor return on their investment - and I'm not just talking about the ones attached to people who haven't a scooby. I'm talking about mine - it spends almost all of its time in a cupboard gathering dust. It is aching to get out there and earn its keep. Trust me, I do actually know how to use it, and your generosity could allow me to stop working in Canary Wharf and to spend my days fulfilling my destiny. And I need a new camera - mine is five years old and a total wreck. It had a new shutter last year but there is only so much you can do. So, are you looking for Christmas Cards this year? What about a calendar for 2018? A mug? Or - and this is novel - a framed photo of a bird to hang on the wall? If you are, please visit the link below and go wild. My dreams thank you.