Thursday, 20 January 2022

Moving pictures


A simple term for the simplest, and most often gathered, type of bird data.

You look.
You see.
You write the figure in the notebook.

It is a snapshot. No more, no less.

You have to try to use look-see as much as possible in citizen science. Even something as 'difficult' as estuary counting comes down to look-see. Why organisers ask for coordinated counts. If you all look-see at the same time, you eliminate most duplication.

As birders, we tend to get tied up and paranoid over look-see, especially when that is often what we use to record our own story. It might be a long-exposure- you might sit in a hide for an hour and take your look-see at best point during that hour. You may have crafted the shot. Taken it when you thought the number highest. But still just one shot.

Some observers make movies. Movies tell a story so much better. The approach is the same for whatever species you are interested in, be that a woodland winter feeding finch flock, a late summer dispersal of Starlings or an estuarine roosting shorebird. You have to capture the whole story.

That capture is often by a trademarked technique called "Through-the-tidal-cycle counts". Think of it like a slo-mo. You take a shot, wait 30, 60 mins, take another snapshot, wait similar, repeat, wait repeat, right through the ups and downs of a tide.

I make a lot of t-t-t-c shorts. For many years I concentrated on the three, four hours around the mudflat covering, taking shots for many angles of the southern shoreline, to piece together a drama-documentary.

Of course, everyone's a critic. And often they don't appreciate the techniques being used.

Yesterday, I had some rushes reviewed. Someone had clearly seen my 1,200 Avocet count at the start of the year.

"So, you counted them yet today? How many are there right now?" Clearly trying to see if we were both focused. I also checked my filters.

"Well, when I counted them an hour ago, there were a hundred and eighty. Half-hour later another eighty flew in, but I haven't counted 'em since. Would you like me to take a rush shot now?"

The second unit director paused to consider the offer. I called 'action'. The chase scene had started, stage right. Two hovercraft were buzzing the Motney Hill RSPB reserve a kilometre distant, where, out of view, I knew there were an army of extras.

Avocet numbers shot up. I'd only got halfway through getting my count proof and decided to abandon it to explain the relevance of the ongoing chase to the story. "There are usually three roosts that can come together here; this, close-up, Bloors (not their favourite), just offscreen there's Motney and a neap tide roost/ pre-assembly roost in Otterham. They might, might all come together asthe covering tide rises. Think of this as a daily four hour epic.

Industry techniques were lost on him. Only interested in unfocused close-ups (a no 'scoper), he switched off, packed up and moved away, muttering something about 'clearly special effects, clearly using Supermarionation, you can see the strings'.

Everyone's a critic. Don't believe such hype, go see things for yourself; snapshots only ever tell a part of a story.

Here, try to say the whole thing is captured in the one snapshot you've seen and you could get a free presentation of the Director's Cut, with commentary. Comes with a warning: any attempted screenings will only end when we reach the note in the script margin 'Exit, stage left, pursued by a bore.'


This blogpost, although based on true events, is a work of fiction. Any similarity to birders living or dead is purely coincidental. No birds were look-see counted during the making of this blogpost. Dedicated to all other members of the t-t-t-c Guild out there.

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I've been told not all comments are publishing. There seems to be a problem between Blogger and Chrome, and I'm being told if you have a problem you should try a different search engine.

All a pain in the proverbial. Sorry! I'm a luddite/technophobe (still won't even have a mobile phone) so much else is beyond me..

If still doesn't work, pls send me a DM/post to my twitter a/c @dunnokev to let me know- thanks! Kev 18/12/21