In Wilkinson's camera shop I explained exactly what I wanted to photograph: the lark ascending and butterflies in flight. Wings. Out on the fells in wild weather, my camera has to pack away so too big and too heavy won’t work. A Canon SX60HS, more magnification, viewfinder to follow a bird in flight and a screen too- should be fine. The word photography means drawing with light and that became a joke. Some viewfinder! Neither Wilkinsons nor Canon could resolve the fact that the it diminished light . My friend Jill and I went to Walney Island looking for eider duck and waders, and experimenting with potential cover images for my book. Neither of us could make out anything through the viewfinder even on its brightest setting. My G12 worked well but isn’t powerful enough for bird photography.
I set out day after day with binoculars and two cameras slung around my neck because rapid-response is essential. Scout Scar, Cunswick Fell, Whitbarrow ; I didn’t take the SX60 further into the fells. No point carrying a bulky camera that doesn’t do the job. The SX60 worked well for macro photography and flowers, but I’d bought it specifically to illustrate the skylark motif.
I might have been despondent. I had cloud-scapes with not a hint of skylark, distant birds camouflaged in tussocks of grass and sedge, failure upon failure. But courage is the nature of a quest. At the heart of a naturalist’s experience is total immersion and I was fine-tuned to everything skylark and ground-nesting birds, habit and habitat, season and weather.
On Whitbarrow, we sat silent amongst tussocks of fresh-flowering blue moor grass and all around us skylark took to the air and burst into song. None was as close as that early bird caught in bright sunlight.
You do not give up on a quest. The new book and the imperative of illustrating my story made me even more determined.
Skylark were soaring and singing all around me. I found a pair on the ground and lined up my camera and peered at the screen, seeing anthills and shrubs and only seeing the bird through binoculars. I refuse to go home without this picture, give it one more go I told myself. Somehow, I lost a camera case and retraced my steps to search . Back and forth to the cairn. Then I saw him, a male skylark not far from the path. I could see his crest. Would he fly? Get the distant shot and then see if he’ll stay long enough for me to think it out. He perched on a small hawthorn which I used to keep focused on him. And bless the bird, he stayed – shifting his position so I photographed him from almost every angle. I kept on the path where other walkers and dogs might pass me, so I did not disturb him. But there was no one else around.
I found skylark is most of the locations studied in my new book. But there’s a huge and rapid decline in numbers and the species is on the red list, endangered. Birder David Horrabin and I study the birds on Scout Scar and we see numbers falling over the years. There are only some half a dozen pairs.
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