Sunday, 27 May 2018

Several Things

Several things then, starting with birds.

May 15th, and it's the second day of the now-annual Red Kite convention in the west country. En route to darkest Cornwall the delegates meander wherever the weather dictates, and at least seven of them pass over chez NQS. This is unprecedented, and if I'd been looking skywards more often (or even spent the whole day at home) I'm sure the count would have been twice that, or more. I managed a couple of dire photos, so here's one...


Now that I've managed to photograph (however poorly) a Red Kite or two from the garden, I doubt I'll bother again. I'm satisfied with a record shot. I do understand the desire for the Ultimate Capture but, not having the gear for such an image, there is no point me trying. However, I do struggle to understand what drives photographers to visit Colin the Cuckoo at Thursley Common. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but published pics of the situation there appear to depict a set-up which is basically staged, with 'nice' mossy perches carefully positioned so that Colin is 'pleasingly' lit and has a complimentary background. Ooh, I've just had a thought. Is he tempted in with bait too? Please tell me he's not. Anyway, whatever, the whole scenario stinks. Photos of the gallery of snappers in attendance I find quite depressing. Maybe there's something wrong with me and I am missing the point, but to me wildlife should basically be just that. Wild. Difficult. Challenging. Dare I say that photos taken in such circumstances are slightly fraudulent? That's my opinion of course, and I suppose I ought to acknowledge that other viewpoints are equally valid. Well, maybe not equally...

Please feel free to argue the toss; this blog is not an echo chamber.

So. Back in December or thereabouts, I entered a proper race, the Egdon Easy 10k. This somewhat reckless move was precipitated by my happy discovery last summer that I could still run. The race was not until May 26th, so there would be plenty of time to sharpen up speed and endurance before the fateful day. That was the plan, at least. Then I got a niggling groin injury and my progressive running routine went out the window. In the last couple of weeks I'd begun to get out regularly once again, but approached last night's race under no illusions. The course was billed as flat and fast - a couple of laps of RSPB Lodmoor in fact - and I set myself a target of under 53 minutes, which would equate to 8:30 min/mile or less. My secret desire was to go sub-8:00 min/mile (ie. under 50 minutes) but I thought that highly unlikely, and subdued such inappropriate lusting.

This was the scene about 20 minutes before the start. Runners gathering in little clubby clusters. I was feeling pre-race nerves at this point, a weird sensation that I hadn't experienced for a very long time indeed.
Trying to listen to the completely inaudible 'safety briefing'. I hoped I hadn't missed any good advice, like "mind the bollards right in the middle of the path" and suchlike. Notice I am well away from the front. Wisely...

And then we were off! Deliberately I tried not to get carried away in the excitement and set off too fast. It worked, and after a few minutes I could tell that the breathing was still easy, and settled into a steady rhythm. My Garmin kept telling me that I was trotting along at roughly 8-minute mile pace, and after three or four kilometres I realised that sub-8s might be on the cards after all. Very gradually it got harder and harder to maintain the pace, a feeling I remembered from those many races of years ago. A nice feeling though. Satisfying in fact, knowing that pace-wise I had got it spot-on, and in the final few hundred metres was even able to wind it up a bit for a final sprint to the line. Okay, 'sprint' might be a bit strong, but definitely 'very quick shuffle'...

Totally oblivious of Mrs NQS capturing this historic moment, I hammer past in a speedy blur...

Strava has all the numbers. Look at that epic pacing!

So, 10k in 49:41 or 7:57 min/mile. I can honestly say I was delighted with that. Much better than expected. I felt fine afterwards too, and today there are no aches or pains. Onwards and upwards then...

I came 77th out of 302 finishers, and 10th out of 37 in my age class (m50). Next year I will be a brand new m60, but to win that category I will need to beat some bloke who did 43:20 yesterday! Bit of a tall order I think. Actually it's very sobering to consider how age affects athletic performance. At the peak of my powers, aged 33, I would potentially have finished in, or very close to, the top 10 of this race. So I'm very pleased that my friend Ric told me about something called 'age-graded performance' where your times are seen in the context of your age group. Old people are slower, and that's that. "Live with it" said Mrs NQS, sympathetically...

12 comments:

  1. Well done Gav. A very commendable effort especially as around three quarters of the field were behind you at the finish.

    The age graded performance result does appear to be one factor that improves with age, which is fortunate. I have lots of fun playing with the WMA spread sheet, as it reveals training runs at my age corresponding to what used to be a flat out race, twenty years back.

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    1. Cheers Ric, it was an excellent incentive to persevere with my new 'old' pastime and see where it goes...

      Age-grading is brilliant!

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  2. Was the guy behind you age related? Did he survive.? Did you "knoble" him as you overtook him?

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    1. Derek, at the finish I shook his hand and thanked him for dragging me along for a bit on the final lap. In the last few hundred metres I pulled away and he evidently just fell to bits, if that photo is anything to go by. Also in the m50 age-group. As you can see, we were both loving it!

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  3. On the cuckoo, as I have little to say about running.....

    I love bird photography as I am sure you know, and I have been known to set up perches, including in my garden - generally in a location where I hope the bird will land prior to scoffing seeds etc. I have also set up perches for Wheatears, which have a habit of perching on the highest object available - a pleasing rock on top of an otherwise uninspiring metal pole works wonders for instance. If I am on a mission with a specific target bird - and find a tolerant one - the first thing I will do is to assess what the bird is doing, where the routine is, the circuit, where it pauses etc, and then see where the best photograph will likely occur based on the background, the light, where I can get to etc. If that means a perch, or some minor gardening to remove unsightly grass, twigs, litter (very often!) then I have no problem with that. I've just come back from Eastern Europe having done all of these things barring the removal of litter, as there simply wasn't any.

    So I do not object per se to the slinging out of a few mealworms, bread, seed, fish or whatever (which in some people provokes outrage), but when I looked at the Cuckoo set-up a while ago (before your post) I decided instantly that there was no way in a million years I was ever going to show my face there. For many reasons, but the chief reason is people. Too many people. Too many people who I will not like. Too much anti-photographer bile, i.e. I would not want to be in any of the photos of the set-up that get bandied around for a good old internet flaming. Possibility of agro too high, both on site and online. Oh and too much camouflage clothing and too much 'all the gear no idea', so some good old fashioned snobbery as well. And then of course there is the fact I don't want the same photo as everyone else.

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  4. And I forgot to say that there are tons of companies who aim to take all thought and skill out of bird photography by setting up purpose-built hides at drinking pools, nest colonies, feeding stations. They are insanely popular, and incredibly expensive. I went on one once, about five years ago. All the birds were there, lined up, and I took many many lovely photographs of Bee-eaters, Rollers, Red-footed Falcons, Hawfinches etc. I slapped myself on the back every evening on my exposures, the sharpness, the pleasing head-turns, neutral backgrounds etc, and have never ever contemplated doing anything like it again. For one I detest being cooped up in hides for hours at a time (and this was hours...I even had to wee in a bucket...), and secondly my photos were ultimately the same as every other punter/sucker who shelled out. Not for me.

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    1. Jono, if I was as keen on bird photography as you clearly are, I would happily employ strategies similar to those you describe in your first para. I can also see myself being deeply satisfied with good photos achieved by such means. Because skill is there. Thought also. Fieldcraft. Just me, and perhaps a friend, taking maximum advantage of an opportunity presented by a wild creature in its natural environment. In such a scenario I see no problem with a bit of 'habitat enhancement', 'gardening' or bait. Any resulting images would still be very much all my own work. And this is why I simply don't get the Thursley Common scenario. None of it would be 'my own work'. I cannot see the attraction. At all. I hope nobody gets me wrong on this, because I certainly don't begrudge anyone any pleasure they derive from rolling up on a nice day, waiting patiently and then using their photographic equipment in a skilful way. Whatever floats your boat. But, for a million reasons (including those you mention) it all strikes me as highly unappealing. And that's an understatement.

      That all said, I have to say there are some amazing photos of Colin out there. Really quite superb. But if I'd taken one of them, I certainly wouldn't be able to sit down in years to come and reflect with satisfaction on the hard work that had produced it. As I said, I just don't get it.

      Jono, thanks very much for taking the time to comment. It's been illuminating getting a photographer's take on it.

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    2. And I should add: your last para about hide photography (or should I say wildlife photography tourism?) was fascinating. I can see the beguiling attraction of the end result, ie. an amazing photo, but also why you would never do it again. Maybe a Colin the Cuckoo scenario is no more than a step on the journey that many photographers will make over time. Perhaps a large number of Colin's visitors will likewise ponder it all afterwards, and never attend such an event again? Interesting...

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    3. It is always a journey, a learning process, and you learn what you like and what you don't like over time, just as you also learn from all the mistakes you make along the way. If you meet a photographer who says they've never got too close, never flushed a bird, never chased a tied migrant, never used a tape, never thrown out a mealworm, never altered a perch, never tidied up wild habitat, never edited out twigs or replaced a missing wing in Photoshop, then that photographer will be a rare beast. My week of hide photography did not put me off photography at all, if anything it taught me a lot about what I like in a bird photograph. It spurred me on to try and get similar results in terms of end product but using different means, some of which you learn also don't work for you, or are not right. By far my favorite type of photography is wandering round with bins round my neck and trying to find situations and opportunities that will work, and then doing as I described in my first comment above. I'm about to post a shed load of photos from Bulgaria that were all taken in this way, just wandering around great habitat or driving down quiet roads to shoot from the car. The challenge of the repeated failures makes the brief moments of success all the more worthwhile. A Red-backed Shrike we spent three hours over three days on (from the car) and only once did it come anywhere near us, and then only for two minutes. But those two minutes were glorious.

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    4. Cheers Jono. I suppose bird photography, like birding itself, like fishing, like most hobbies perhaps, can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways. And I guess the mature way to deal with this reality would be to accept and tolerate one another's chosen approach, even if we don't necessarily see the attraction. There's probably a blog post somewhere in all this...

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  5. I wonder what Eric Hosking would have made of all this?

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    1. Ric, I imagine he would be utterly gobsmacked at the sheer proliferation of high-quality cameras and lenses today. And as he died before digital became mainstream, that too would be a revelation I guess.

      He'd have some competition, that's for sure!

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