My first blogpost has had 405 views, which is encouraging, and one comment, from my friend Thomas Urquhart in Maine, who asks "What are you actually doing?!" I'll try to explain:
I was invited to Eilean Shona (see the last blog) by the owner, Vanessa Branson, to survey the birdlife and look into running some birdsong activities there. The quid pro quo for the trip was that while I was there I would post regularly on social media. She wanted three instagram posts per day. This didn't sound like me; I've always enjoyed other people's snaps, but felt I was missing the moment if I was stuck behind the lens. However, I wandered around the island with my i-pad and posted pictures of the constantly changing colours; to my surprise I enjoyed it.
After leaving the island I kept posting, but felt the need to include pictures of birds. To get acceptable images with i-pad you have to get within a couple of feet of your quarry. I picked an inquisitive looking nuthatch as my first target. I moved some garden furniture out of the way and pulled my car up against the fence near the bird feeder to serve as a hide. I sat motionless, window open, back twisted, i-pad raised for action, and waited for the bird to pluck up courage to take a sunflower seed eighteen inches away from me. Time passed. Through the corner of my eye I could see the nuthatch watching the car from bushes a few metres up the fence, so any sudden movement would be fatal. At first other birds kept their distance, but eventually coal tits started to flit to the feeder, each visit only lasting a second or two; soon after came blue tits, then after much nervous chattering and whirring of wings, great tits. I photographed them all. After 45 minutes of expectant discomfort (for both of us I suspect), the nuthatch flew in.
I love the idea that anyone with a mobile phone and a little patience can take decent photos of birds. People fear that devices take us away from the natural world, but we can use them to enhance our relationship with it. Birdsong is very hard for humans to understand without some help; that is the point of the Planet Birdsong initiative. On Shona we talked about the pressure for "digital detox" to be the selling point for recreational experience of the wild; yet it can be just as transformative to slow down and immerse ourselves in the myriad details of nature that escape us in our busy everyday routines, using all of the wonderful resources now available to us. For me the key is for each of us to develop the right dialogue between our own intelligence and AI.
What made me start this new blog? Vanessa was hosting a writing retreat while I was there. Twice a week writers would emerge from their far-flung cottages to share extracts from their latest work. A skinny-dipping cranial osteopath, with an infectious sense of new-found freedom now that her children are grown up, read enigmatic tales about unresolved family mysteries; a Hong Kong Banker's ex-wife told stories about Hong Kong Bankers' wives, extolling the joys of extreme plastic surgery (she's spending a whole month in a remote cottage by the sea without electricity- it's heroic!); Vanessa read movingly from her forthcoming memoirs. All I came up with was a little piece for the Eilean Shona visitors' pack, which became last week's blog; however I caught the storytelling bug so now I'll post a story about birds once a week.