Wildlife Blogger of the Year

I’ve entered an adapted version of “The Rutting Season” in this competition run by Terra Incognita: https://www.terra-incognita.travel/2018/the-running-of-the-deer-by-richard-turner

The main prize is awarded by a team of judges, but there is also a “Readers’ Choice” in which anyone can vote for one of the entries. PLEASE VOTE FOR ME!

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A Difficult Question

Here’s a question for my younger friends: “Would you vote for someone who promised drastically to reduce your standard of living?”

I began this some days ago, prompted by seeing dear old David Attenborough jerking his arms up and down and telling us we are facing a crisis. Most of us agree that climate change is a terrible threat to our future, so why are we wasting so much time and so many billions on a silly idea with a silly name: Brexit? Why do apparently intelligent people talk about “sustainable growth”. There is no such thing. Why isn’t that obvious to anybody? Any organism can only grow as long as its resource base is growing. Our economies and populations can only grow as long as we keep using more oil, more coal, more water, more land. So many people seem to believe that with some kind of technological magic we can enjoy all the benefits of our energy rich lives while dramatically reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide. IT CAN’T BE DONE.

“Nonsense!”  say those who think it’s all to do with the sun. “Look at the figures: all over the world we are less violent, better fed, we have more leisure we are better educated and better housed than ever.” It may well be true that life is getting better for humans, but those that say this forget to look at what is happening in the natural world –  the place where our food comes from.

Climate change is only one of the threats to our future which have been ignored for too long. With the human population still rising, even if we could find a way to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, we are likely to run out of water in, for example, the Indian sub-continent. Unless we can dramatically change the typical meat-based Western diet, we will run out of fertile land. As our population grows and becomes richer, populations of millions of other species are in rapid decline. Without insects we could not survive, yet the total population of insects seems to be in free fall.

The figures, when you dig deeper, are horrifying, but  we don’t have to stick our heads in the sand and wait for it to bury us. There are things that would work, but not the sort of things we would vote for. Would you vote for someone who promised to reduce your standard of living by – at a conservative estimate – a factor of 5? A  draconian carbon tax would work. It would dramatically increase the cost of anything which emitted carbon dioxide, but what happens when a country like France imposes a modest carbon tax on motor fuel?  – riots:  tax abandoned. 

But what about nuclear energy, particularly the prospect of super-abundant clean energy produced by fusion?  Surely that would solve our problems?

I don’t think so. With all that clean energy we wouldn’t have to worry about cutting down all the forests. We could irrigate the deserts to grow more and more food for more and more people.  Can you imagine a world choosing not to use all that power to make all the things that we need? Would we choose not to make any more plastic? Can you imagine us choosing not to have children so that the population could be reduced enough to save the natural world? It’s a law of nature that when resources increase so do populations, and vice versa.

If we won’t vote for it how, in a democracy can it happen? Traditionally democracy is suspended when a country goes to war, and war seems to be the preferred option on the right wing Trump/Brexit, Orban/Putin axis. Yes, a big enough war would reduce the human population but it would also send massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If, however, we could get all the richest nations to suspend democracy in a total war on carbon emissions, that might work.

I even think something like that might happen in my lifetime, so my answer to the question is YES! I would be overjoyed to vote for someone with some grasp on reality.

 

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Christmas Markets – absolute masochism!

If you are a connoisseur of the most exquisite forms of tedium then I recommend 6 hours at a market stall in winter. I’ve never known time go so slowly. The bits that just about made it worthwhile were those when I got chatting to some really interesting people, and the overall factor which put some plus signs in the balance was learning about selling to the general public. I’m still not sure about the best way to present my work in a form which will bring some money in, but making the stall much more professional looking is essential if I am to get more satisfaction from market trading.  

Did I sell anything? Yes – 2 pictures and 3 packs of Christmas cards. This was just enough to keep this option going. For now though a return to activity!

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Christmas Market

I’m no stranger to selling things – it’s what I’ve been doing most of my adult life; that and making things and organising things and selling tickets and . . .too many other ways of earning my keep. Yet in all my life,  today is the first time I have ever held a stall at a market. I’ve done shows with a caravan and an awning and lovely chairs and tables which people would admire but seldom buy; I’ve sold festival tickets online; gig tickets at the door; I’ve sold ideas of thing in wood which people have commissioned; all this but never the most fundamental and ancient way in which goods are traded: The Market.

What  a word with many meanings that is! The farmers round here call it the “Mart”  and go to buy and sell animals.  Politicians use it to mean the fundamental unit of capitalism. One kind of market in Britain  gets called a “Boot Sale”, which must totally mystify our US cousins. Another gets called a “flea market” which comes from the French “March√© aux Puces” meaning the sort of old stuff which might contain fleas!  Many towns in Britain have a market hall big enough to hold 30 or 40 stalls open most of the time but joined my many more in the streets outside on “Market Day”. Markets  sell anything and everything that can be fitted into the space.  In the last 10 years or so they have  become a major seasonal events: the Christmas Markets, and it is one of these I am dipping my toe into today, and a different one tomorrow.

I’m not expecting to sell out,  but with luck I might get a good idea of what is “marketable”.

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The Red Kite Challenge

 

So, just between me and me, I  think I know about this wildlife photography business do I? (How’s that for pronouns!) Well, I thought I was certainly getting there, but I’ve been selecting a few shots to print and frame for a Christmas market stall I’m doing in 3 weeks time. When you have a few thousand pictures to choose from this can be a time consuming business, and since the accent is to be on local wildlife I felt I needed a really good picture of a kite on the wing. The obvious place – and why didn’t I think of it earlier? – is the local kite feeding station at Llandeusant. I’ve been there several times. Not recently, but not so far in the past that I couldn’t remember the way: through Myddfai and take a sharp left.

Are you sure? It was when a strip of grass appeared in the middle of the road that I realised I’d made this mistake before. (Why do navigation mistakes keep getting re-cycled?) This single track road would be gorgeous for a day’s walk in the sunshine, but in the rain and now hurrying to get there before they start chucking the meat out . . . it just goes on and on.

I only just got there in time, paid my ¬£3 and in too much haste got both cameras prepared. The full-frame 5DS had the big 400 f4 lens on it, and the 80D crop sensor had my Tamron 18-400 so that I wouldn’t miss out on the wider picture. A few minutes later the man with the bucket of meat was throwing out handfuls into the little paddock fenced off for the purpose, and the air was full of kites – at least 50 with a few dozen corvids and a few buzzards.

Immediately I’m out of my depth. I simply can’t focus on any of these birds swirling round in front of me. Even though they are fed here every day, they are still nervous, and stay circling until one of the older birds decides to swoop down, grab some meat and be away without touching the ground. Lots more follow and chunks of meat are flying around above me with kites attached to them.

There are glimpses of sunlight but the light is poor and the autofocus very sluggish. My arm is soon aching and I wish I had brought a mono-pod. I check the screen and they’re all blurred! Damn; I’ve set the shutter speed too low. Normally I don’t need more than 150th of a second for these big flappy birds, but here they are moving much faster. Surely 400th will be enough? I change cameras. Ah, this is much easier. I can zoom out to between 100 and 200mm and have a much better chance of catching them, but this lens is better at landscapes than wildlife, and in the winter light the detail may be lacking. (It was.)

The crows and the buzzard stay put, eating their fill but keeping a sharp eye on the kites above them.

More kites swoop down and the flock slowly thins as the brave-hearts among them fly off with their meal. The other people in the hide have all gone by the time I decide to give up. It’s been a hard session. I won’t know if I have my definitive kite picture until I get the 100 or more shots onto the computer.  For the first time since I sold it I really wished I’d had my old 100-400 zoom lens. As I walk back to the car the cloud becomes more scattered and shafts of sunlight show up the brilliant copper of the autumn trees, luminous against the dark hills. I take a more direct route back, climbing up to show the whole Towy valley and then snaking down to skirt the smaller valleys, but I keep stopping, because everywhere there are fabulous views.
What is the opposite of “A sting in the tail”? How about: “There is a bit of honey left at the bottom of the jar”. I set out to get my best kite pictures, and I don’t think I’ve succeeded, but I’m pretty sure I have my best autumn pictures this year.

Postscript

I did get some good kite pictures with some nice views of buzzards as a bonus.   

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