Monday 22 November 2021

Grumpy Virus Post

Still in the clutches of some grim virus presently, which means two things.

1. I have no current birdy stuff to share.

2. I am pretty hacked off.

Thing 1 means I am not in a position to write happy posts about recent thrilling birds. Not even gulls. Thing 2 means I can easily find loads of stuff on Twitter to press my buttons. Which is a fine way to warm up for an 'opinion piece'.

There was something on there about Long-eared Owls yesterday...

This tweet has sprouted a fascinating collection of side-shoots. Among them you can find this sad graphic...

In other words, Long-eared Owl sightings in the UK have to be kept away from public access. Why? Dig around a little further and you will find someone asking: 'Is photography the new egg collecting?' Linked to that question is this...

It is all so depressing. And predictable. And therefore even more depressing. Ten years ago I was one of the moderators on the original 'Devon Bird News' blog when a Long-eared Owl decided to roost at Exminster Marshes. Stupidly it chose a really obvious and accessible spot. I have never seen Long-eared Owl in Devon or Dorset (they are like hen's teeth, and usually a jammy passage encounter) and did not travel to see the Exminster bird. But lots of people did, with the inevitable consequences. It's a long story, but in the end I had to write this post on DBN...

Dated 28 December 2011

There were sorry tales of both the LEO and SEOs being disturbed, of photographers (or should I just say people with cameras?) going on to land where they should not. Etc..etc...

I am quite conscious that nowhere above is there any suggestion that mere birders might also be at fault. It's always toggers getting the stick. After all, let's be honest, you don't need to be carrying a camera to be guilty of getting too close...

And it's true, among the big-lens boys clustered right beneath the hedge containing the 2010 Turf Lock American Robin were some without cameras. Either way, the bird did not show for Sandra and me that day. Can't think why not...

In pre-digital days there were few cameras. Birders stood and viewed birds through scopes, at considerable range sometimes. And often I'm sure they still do. It isn't a desire for closer views that has become so problematic in the last couple of decades; it is the desire for closer photos. Sorry. Images.

In the above-mentioned Twitter threads you will find some defensive input from one or two photographers along the lines of 'it's not all photographers', or 'birders/twitchers can be just as bad'. Fine. But I would be very surprised if much less than 90% of these kinds of incidents were caused by people with cameras. Nah, make that 95%. Sue me.

However, at the root of the problem is not so much the idiot behaviour, but rather how amazingly easy it now is to know all you need to know about the presence and location of disturbable birds. Which brings me to the other button that got pressed today - and again it was a tweet what done it guv - the commodification of birds news...

Almost exactly 11 years ago I wrote a series of six NQS posts about the development of the bird news services. From grapevine to pager. Interestingly, 2010 was pre-smartphone ubiquity, pre-WhatsApp and largely pre-Twitter also, so things have moved on a bit since then. I still have the posts on my hard drive, and spent a pleasant time reviewing them earlier. They were a bit more acerbic than I remembered, and I am sorely tempted to resurrect them in perhaps some revamped form. If I don't get better - and a lot less grumpy - soon, it will definitely happen.


  1. Sorry to hear you are still crocked Gav, but it does give you the opportunity to do your Christmas shopping online without fighting for air in shops ;o)

    All hobbies and pastimes are made and ruined by those that partake, and it seems that nowadays there is a clamouring to buy the kit and look the part regardless of ability. Cycling, and hill walking spring to mind, armies of people following the paths of others.
    Water cannons are underused by the RSPB but I heartily support their use.

    On the bird front, my village that welcomed the pair of red legged partridges that adopted our little estate a few years ago, now rocks to the sightings of a wayward turkey that appeared in a small track behind a nearby orchard. Quite where it came from nobody knows but, it is obviously hungry as last evening it walked through my front garden. Do I add that to my list?

    Get well soon.

    1. Cheers Dave. Consumerism is as prevalent in birding as in most other hobbies I would imagine. Not pretty...
      One of my customers had a turkey. What a cantankerous old beast he was too. A right character. If yours makes it to the new year intact, obviously tick it for your 2022 list! 😄

  2. Excellent Gav. There is no way I would post a location of owls, harriers or Goshawks. The first two are constantly the subject of toggers despite what they will have us believe. I dont really post much news info on birds that you could find if you just went and looked either. In your image above with the long lenses way to the front, that is standard as if they have special dispensation to be closer while mere mortals stand back.

    1. Thanks Stew. I have every sympathy with folks who want a nice shot of a bird. I like to do so myself when I can. But that pic above illustrates the behaviour I cannot abide, and in my experience it is all too common.

  3. I think we need to publicise the meaning of LEO posture to photographers.

    Round, fluffy, ears down = happy bird.
    tall, thin, alert ears, round face discs and staring eyes = disturbed bird.

    Also, it is possible that LEOs naturally move around their roost. You found a bird in a roost, people turned up and took photos, it moved on. We need a control; bird in roost, nobody turns up, does the bird move on? Perhaps they hunt out an area and have to move on in search of prey. We know SEO's move around a lot over winter from tracking, perhaps LEOs too.

    1. Thanks DD. Yes, it would be good if people knew the signs. It is many, many years (and a very much pre-digital) since I last visited a LEO roost, but I knew the score then, and nothing has changed. 'Keep well distant' is still an excellent maxim! 😊

  4. Sorry to hear you're crocked again Gav. I suspect due to the re-occurrence and longevity of the affliction that it isn't a virus but a bacterial infection to blame. The former comes, peaks, goes or kills you. And the latter freewheels about for weeks on end. I speak from experience and blame one L. Wheatland for the discovery 😉

    As you know, I ride bikes, have run a bit and also have fished. I bird as I breath. I don't need to venture forth on that score. I never stop. However I'm of the view of DB. I don't bother with superfluous kit or image due to a rather obvious reason.

    As for those oiks down in the lane? The boundaries of acceptable behaviour are continually stretched because no-one or very few explain where they lie. Quite often, by the time something is said. The problem is so far down the rabbit hole that the messenger is deemed to have the problem alone.
    More voices are required.

    1. Cheers Ric. Maybe you're right, but I struggle to believe that folk are unaware of what is and is not acceptable behaviour.

  5. I think Ric's closing paragraph sums it up perfectly. More voices are required. Are you doing wrong if you don't know you're doing wrong? Are you merely unaware (I'm sure many are) or are you just a selfish prick who doesn't actually care for the bird's welfare (again, I'm sure many are!)

    Being surrounded by folks displaying an almost complete lack of field skills or knowledge of nature is what drove me away from the twitching scene, it just wound me up no end. I watched a Yellow-billed Cuckoo get hounded up Porthgwarra Valley until it ran out of bushes. It then flew off and was never subsequently seen again. I may have verbally laid into the kid (toting a lens as it happens) a little strongly, but I'm pretty sure he didn't die of exhaustion or starvation because of it. Who knows how long the cuckoo survived for after disappearing over the hill.

    Anyway, I hope you feel better soon buddy. Try not to die just yet, ok?

    1. Is it principally an education thing? I wish I thought that's all it was...

      I remember a Pied Wheatear on Scilly which was squeezed and squeezed by the crowd until it ran out of habbo and did the off. There is something to be said for high, impenetrable fences on occasion.

  6. Interesting comments Gavin - at South Huish Marsh we have had 2 birds over the last 2 weeks that ‘birders ‘ wanted to see and photograph- Pec Sand @ Water Pipit - for the first time in 20 years we have a new footpath from the edge of the car park to the edge of the overflow pool - why because the photographers want to get as close as possible , thevPec Sand has now departed - some of the photographers had lenses that had to be rested on fence posts they were so large - my photos from the gate will not win a competition but they provide me with a sufficient memory of a record of a scarce birds visit .

    1. That's interesting. A path built to allow close approach for photography?! Wow. Many thanks for your comment Mike. 👍

  7. If some of these people who hassled birds experienced a territorial Southern Cassowary. I'd imagine that it might just educate them on what constitutes a safe distance.
    If they survived 😮