Forget birdwatching - it’s birding and it’s big

12 April 2012


My first birdwatching kit was simplicity itself. Binoculars that worked quite well on sunny days, and a bird book with some artistic but inaccurate portraits of British birds.
Today I would be ashamed to go near the local reserve with anything so modest. Birdwatching has gone from small-scale hobby to multi-million pound industry in 20 years - and along the way it has managed to shed its image of being a nerdy pastime for would-be trainspotters in camouflage jackets. Now you need designer waterproofs, hi-power scopes, a zoom camera and 2kg binoculars, the “designer jewellery” of the pastime. More »

The Man with the Golden Binoculars

26 November 2009


When I’m packing for a trip to the Caribbean, the first thing that goes into the suitcase is the James Bond book.

It’s getting a bit battered now – it has seen a lot of miles – but it is still the best. Ian Fleming thought so too. The book is The Birds of the West Indies. The author is James Bond. And when Fleming was writing his first 007 thriller in his hideaway in Jamaica, he “borrowed” the name of the ornithologist for his hero in Casino Royale.

The borrowing happened in 1952, over breakfast in Fleming’s favourite room in the villa at Goldeneye, with its view under the shade trees to the sea. The book was on the table, beside the binoculars, and Fleming found his inspiration. More »

Wildlife from the car window

24 November 2009

Pere David's deer

Victorian books on shooting had whole chapters devoted to “Getting Close to your Quarry”, complete with illustrations of hunters disguised as buffaloes or hiding themselves in haycarts. The trick was to get inside something that animals and birds were familiar with, and would ignore.

Today’s equivalent to the peasant’s haycart is the family car. It is the perfect mobile hide for the wildlife photographer. 

Whether you are hunting down lions or herons, the car is the best place to go into hiding. It is comfortable and, if you’ve got nerve, it will go almost anywhere.

Animals and birds, large and small, tend to ignore vehicles. And you can usually open the window quietly without spooking your target. It is very unlikely that the birds or animals will try to come in, although safari park monkeys are an exception — they will reach into the car and grab your camera and probably your sunglasses as well …

Elsewhere in these postings I have mentioned the rival philosophies of two types of birders, the leggers and the arsers. The leggers keep moving and hope to find something; the arsers sit quietly and wait for the birds to come to them. The leggers don’t want to get bored. The arsers are allergic to perspiration. More »

Classic gamebirds from backyard pens

22 November 2009

Bobwhite quail

Two birds which have been trying to find their way on to the British shooting list for many years without success, are now finding a place in the niche market for exotic game. The Bobwhite quail and the Chukar partridge are easy to keep and breed, and they are famously good on the table.

The Bobwhite, when considered as exotic table game, fits into a gap between the Coturnix quail – the usual supermarket quail – and the partridge. It weighs about half a pound, say 200-250gm. And the Chukar and its hybrids, weighing about three-quarters of a pound (350gm), have found a market as the supply of wild Grey partridges from the shooting field has faded away. More »

Thailand is easiest of exotics

21 November 2009

Thai floating market

“Thailand is probably the easiest exotic country for visitors.” Years ago, someone wrote that phrase in a guidebook and it has been repeated in every travel book and on every website ever since.

There is a very good reason for trotting it out again and again. Thailand is, indeed, the easiest of all exotic countries for visitors. It is not only exotic. It is tropic, it is the mysterious East, it is friendly, hot and inexpensive. It is one of the few places in the tourist world that can boast not only comfortable beds and edible food but also large doses of the Wow! Factor. More »

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