Bird Photography: Seek the bird, the bird seeks you
There has been a debate for quite some time whether one should be contended with bird photography or be a serious birder. Is birding different from bird photography? Can both be relative to each other? Why take all the risk of going deep into the forest area when one can see all these birds in the zoo and click as many pictures as one wants on a single day? Or if one inflicted by Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) that seeks approval and praise in the form of positive comments and ‘likes’ on the facebook and elsewhere? And the top one, why take the pains at all when photographs of all the birds, including those that do not exist today, are available on the internet along with their description like their structure, color, behavior, nesting practices, distribution, and their food habits?
There are no easy answers. However, the clue perhaps lies in a well-intended statement “ Birding is a spiritual journey that lets you get connected with nature and brings you inner joy when you find a bird in its natural habitat. The joy is enhanced when you share that joy with others what you saw.”
You can be a good birder
You can be a good birder without being a photographer as birding is all about observing and studying the behavior of the birds, their habitat, their distribution, food, etc. However, you cannot be a good bird photographer without being a good birder. If you know when and where the bird will perch and how will it fly away, be rest assured you will be able to take your dream shot. If you know the bird, you will be able to click it.
Well, then both birding and bird photography are serious subjects and need to be practiced within some sort of framework. The finer aspects of photography are left to those who understand the intricacies of equipment such as exposure, light compensation, f-stops, shutter speed, ISO and post-processing software such as Photoshop and Lightroom. Enough manuals on that are available and the skills can be honed with self-experimentation, experience, and practice. However, there are few generals does and don’ts of birding and bird photography. The list is not exhaustive.
1. Seek the bird. The bird seeks you!
Birding is all about connecting your inner-self with the bird. You are into birding because you love these beautiful creatures on the wings. If you want to be a good birder, you got to love the birds.
Think deeply about the bird you intend to see and the bird shall appear from nowhere provided, of course, that that bird belongs to that area. Sounds philosophical? Try it and you will not be disappointed. Many a time, birders have practiced this principle and have been succeeded.
You need to observe and study the bird very minutely with focused attention. So what if you are not able to take a photograph this time, there will always be a next time. It is not the end of the world, it is only a beginning to a beautiful journey. Observing the bird, its perching habit, it’s flying mode, and its courtship is wonderful and part and parcel of the journey of birding. Enjoy the moments and in the process, you become acquainted with its world. Once acquainted, clicking a good picture is not a big deal. Trust me.
Patience is the key to successful birding. Do not expect every time you go you will find a bird in a whiff. You need to be patient
2. Everyone loves privacy!
You have every right to maintain your privacy so does everyone else. The birds also have the right to their privacy. Do not be too invasive. If you invade their privacy, they just fly away and even desert the place for all times to come. Maintain a safe distance. Make the bird feel comfortable and then slowly move to a manageable distance but certainly not too close that gives the bird a feeling that you are a danger to it.
3. Dress up for the occasion!
We are talking about a framework. A framework requires some sort of discipline. No? Do not wear colorful clothes that distract the birds. Camouflage is the best choice. You are there for a purpose and a proper uniform will lend credence to that purpose and also make you responsible. Take pride in your birding uniform. By the way, take care of your feet with proper shoes. You will get so engrossed in observing the birds that there are chances you slip if your soles are not gripping types. Wear trekking or adventure shoes that have a fine grip on the soil and the rocks and mind you if you are in the mountain forest area, the fallen pine needles are very oily and slippery even though they look dry. Develop the habit of watching your steps without losing an eye on the bird. Sounds difficult? I know but then you don’t have to step on some reptile and get bitten. That could be dangerous.
4. Do not be a babbler!
Even a slight sound can distract the bird. They intercept the sound waves more efficiently than we humans. Control your excitement. Hurrah can wait for another day and certainly no hurrah while birding.
5. Keep your eyes and ears open but do not lose them!
Have you heard about Eric John Hosking? He was a fine bird photographer who lost one of his eyes in an attack by Tawny owl that he was trying to photograph. After the surgery, he again went and photographed the same bird. What a commitment!
However, keeping your eyes and ears open is to have strong eyesight to find the birds that hide so well among the tree branches and also be familiar with their sounds and calls. In your free time do some eye exercises and familiarize with bird sounds available on audio books and YouTube. Ideally, you should be equipped with binoculars.
6. Control your mind and your limbs!
Birding is a form of meditation. Control your mind and sit still. Even a faint flicker of your arms will warn the bird. They have perfect eyesight. Some birds can watch 360 degrees. Sounds fantastic? But it is a fact. From a great distance, they can detect an insect or a caterpillar.
If you are in a group and have seen a bird, do not point a finger at it to focus the attention of your birding colleagues. Just tell them the place in an as soft tone as possible.
7. Do not be an invader!
You are a birder and not a member of a hunting gang that is out there to corner the bird from all sides. If you cannot go solo, ideally you should have two to three to accompany you for birding. If your group is large, divide it into small teams that go in different spots but do not gang up at the same spot.
8. It is not your call. If you love mimicry, go to the theater!
There is a huge ethical issue that needs to be addressed. Some have learned the birding calls and employ this “art” to attract the birds. Some even play audio tapes to attract the birds. Please do not do it. You are confusing the birds and leaving them disappointed. If you find someone doing it, restrain him or her and if does not mend, part ways. Probably societal isolation will do the trick.
9. Do not starve them to death after you leave!
Bird tourism is on the rise and with it all kinds of corrupt practices. Hides have propped up where the organizer places all kinds of foodstuff to attract the birds. At times, the food kept there is not the birds’ natural food. The result is that the birds develop the habit of taking that and do not relish their natural food. Ultimately, diseases strike them and they die. I am not against hides or bird tourism. We can plant fruit-bearing trees or make the natural habitat healthier to attract the birds in a better manner. Some kind of regulation by the forest department would help but as birders, we need to discourage the hides that follow this practice by not patronizing them.
10. It is not party time!
Agreed that you had a fruitful day and you were able to see some unique bird or a bird that you were seeing for the first time. Every success needs to be celebrated. Fine! but not at the birding site with blaring music, wining and dancing. Celebrations may be done in the comfort of your homes or at some restaurant. And please for heaven sake, do not litter the place with water bottles and snack packets that you may have brought with you for your birding trip. Clean the mess up before you leave.
As mentioned earlier, the list is not exhaustive. However, if you adhere to it, you will find your birding a pleasant and enjoyable one.
Article Writer: Jatinder Vijh
Photo By Jatinder Vijh