Friday, 30 October 2009

Birds of Prey re-visited...

So I returned to my local Bird of Prey centre yesterday, hoping to find answers to some of the questions that had been bothering me since my last visit. 

I found out, for instance, that the reason some of the birds are tethered as well as being confined to an aviary, is so that they don't fight amongst themselves.  I understand the logic, but that doesn't negate the inherent wrongness I again felt at keeping any of these birds captive.

Such as this amazing African Fish Eagle, captured here in awe-inspiring flight:

All the birds are well looked after here, and are regularly flown so that they remain active and are able to exercise at least some of their natural instincts. 

As one of the keepers told me, they see the captive birds here as "ambassadors for their species" - a case of sacrificing the freedom of a few for the greater good of the species as a whole.  Whether the birds are there for breeding or educational purposes, the rationale is that it is, ultimately, for the greater good.

However, I've since been reading the Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS) website.  They argue that captive breeding doesn't work ( for more info), as the majority of captive animals re-introduced into the wild do not survive. 

For years they have been campaigning for the money invested in zoos, sanctuaries and other captive breeding establishments to be channelled instead into the conservation of natural habitats.  They make the interesting point that protecting a few individuals from a small number of species is pretty futile, as eco-systems operate on a much larger scale, and that all aspects of them need to be protected - not just the most 'attractive' species.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  With respect to my local bird of prey centre, I don't for one moment doubt that the owners and staff there are 100% committed to the conservation of these birds.  I would be interested to discuss with them some of the points made by CAPS.

For me, no matter how good the intentions behind it, it feels very wrong for these birds to be behind bars, and/or chained to a post. 

We need to continue working to undo some of the damage we've done, out there in the wild, where these animals belong - before species such as the hooded vulture take their final bow...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Monochrome Manchester...

...or rather, trying to shoot Manchester in monochrome without it appearing grey ;)

Luckily yesterday didn't succumb to the usual textureless slate-ish/white-ish sky, but instead had some interesting clouds and - some sunshine!  Unluckily, I lost my polarizing filter.  RRRAH!  After spending ages retracing my steps, I realised that looking for small grey thing on a massive sea of grey pavement pretty much guaranteed futility.  So, all of these were taken without that crucial bit of kit.

Manchester has its share of 'attractions' and over-photographed areas.  It is often said that photographers ought to stay away from these and be more creative, show things from a different point of view, etc.  I'm all for that, but most of the time I like to shoot what I like - inspiring, beautiful, interesting things, or simply things that catch my eye, for whatever reason. 

Usually, I may as well have my telephoto lens glued to the front of my camera.  I decided to leave it at home yesterday and shoot from a wider perspective.  Also, to focus on buildings, and to shoot in black and white. 

What follows is a selection of shots from a small area of the city.  They don't tell a story or have any deeper meaning.  Some will have been photographed countless times before.  For me, they are snapshots of things which caught my eye, for whatever reason.

The ubiquitous Urbis building:

And down to the right behind it, the Printworks.  Used to be a major headquarters for printing national papers - now "Europe's first urban leisure and entertainments complex":

Manchester's Big Wheel, surrounded by a mix of Manchester architecture:

A small block of buildings containing a pub, a porn shop and a tattoo parlour:

And finally, the late afternoon sun caught reflecting off various shiny surfaces around Ancoats:

Monday, 26 October 2009

Before all the leaves are gone...

England really is beautiful at this time of year. 

A few days ago I visited Tatton Park, in the hope of seeing some action between rutting deer.  There was none!  I watched one old-timer stag and his harem for a while, as a much younger male tentatively trotted towards them.  As soon as he got too close, the old-timer noisily chased him off.  No danger of a fight there - the young stag, put in his place, retreated to the safety of a nearby tree, where he remained for hours!

Meanwhile I explored some more of the park, encountering numerous groups of deer as I went:

I love how the doe on the left in this next shot manages to dodge the danger of this falling leaf:

Unfortunately the park closes at 5pm, so I wasn't able to stay until sunset, which I'm sure would have been stunning. 

However, the intermittent late afternoon sunshine made for the most beautiful golden light - coupled with the Autumn leaves, it was bloody gorgeous :)

I shall be back there soon, before all the leaves are gone...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Cost of Conservation

I spent yesterday afternoon at my local Bird of Prey centre - an ideal place to practise bird photography I thought, whilst spending time in the company of some awesome birds I would never otherwise get to see up close.

Here is one of the first sights that greeted me upon arrival - a Burrowing Owl, padlocked into its cage:

All I felt was depressed.  This beautiful bird, which should be flying free somewhere in America, confined to a tiny cage.  How could this possibly be for the greater good?

Somewhat angry and downhearted, I decided nevertheless to go and watch the vultures' feeding time.  Here were two Hooded Vultures, native to Africa, sharing a much larger enclosure with an African Fish Eagle.  At least these guys had room to fly around.  When the keeper came along to feed them, I asked her to explain a bit about the rationale behind the centre.  More on that in a mo - first, here's a shot of one of the Hooded Vultures.  Check out those eyelashes!!

Vultures are not popular birds, thought by most to be dirty, ugly scavengers.  Whether you agree with the 'ugly' part or not, turns out they are actually very clean creatures - and critically endangered. 

In India, vultures are deemed useful, due to their penchant for disposing of cow carcasses.  However, in recent years, their numbers have declined by 97%.  Why?  Because of an animal painkiller, diclofenac, which the vultures are unable to break down.  Ten to twenty vultures can feast on a single cow carcass, but if this cow was given diclofenac shortly before its death, all the birds will be dead within a couple of days as a result of ingesting it.

Part of the role of Bird of Prey centres is to breed endangered species such as this in captivity, so that there will be sufficient numbers remaining that they can be re-established in the wild, should the need arise.  They are also active in conservation work throughout the world.

A big part of this is educating the public.  In this country, that's where these captive birds come in - so that people can get up close to them and see how amazing they really are, in the hope that with this will come a desire to protect them and their habitats.

With this in mind, I went along to the Flying Display.  Owls are one of my favourite species, though I have very rarely seen them in the wild.  It was fantastic to see them out of their enclosure and spreading their wings, like this African Spotted Eagle Owl:

A proper stunner!  It was great also to see how fantastic the keepers are with the birds - their passion really shows, and you can tell they believe in what they do. 

A further wander around the enclosures and I came across the majestic Bald Eagle.  A stunning sight, but again my heart sank as I noticed it was tethered to its perch:

I made my way towards the exit with conflicting emotions.  Glad that there are people out there working to help protect some of our most endangered birds, and privileged to be able to see them at such close range.  On the other hand, I can't help wondering whether there isn't a better way to do this - one that allows the birds more freedom somehow...  I didn't have time to stick around, but I'm going to go back to the centre soon and ask them about this.

I'll leave you with a couple of shots of a Boobook Owl, which was somewhat bizarrely tethered to a perch just in front of another owl's enclosure, and facing a wall.  Despite popular belief, owls are one of the least intelligent birds, but I couldn't help imagining what this one might be thinking...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

It's true! I've started this blog to share my birding adventures with the world! 

No, I'm not sure that's it...

OK, I'm a woman, I'm a birder, I'm a photographer, I'm a massage therapist, I'm a music-lover, I'm lots of things.  I want to share some of my passion for some of these things, because passion makes the world go round.

As a non-middle-aged-non-male birder, I've come to believe that I'm a fairly rare species.  In my several years of birding, I've yet to bump into a single other young(-ish) female out there wielding binoculars. 

Which puzzles me occasionally, because birds are amazing!  And it's a perfect excuse to be outside, in any kind of habitat, from an inner city garden to a wild coastline.  Nature ROCKS, and is good for the soul :)  So where are all the girl-birders?! 

So anyway, I shall use this blog to recount some of my birding 'adventures' for anyone who's interested (audience participation may be required at times when I request help with identification). 

Also, to post shots of some of the birds I come across.  Because I have a photography website - - via which I am attempting to showcase and sell some of my prints.

So my blog will be about me trying to sell my prints as well ;)

What've we got so far...  birds, photos...  that's probably what I'll stick with for now.  Some other things I'm passionate about might come into it later, when I've figured out exactly how blogging works and why exactly I'm doing it!