Male Blackbird. The most common bird in the Netherlands.
It must have been over ten years ago that I bought my first pair of -very cheap- binoculars. We were about to go on a citytrip to Barcelona and I thought it would be nice to get a closer look at the city’s unique architecture. I ended up looking at birds instead.
Around the same time I had developed a keen interest in photography as well as a severe case of gas (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, where you focus on buying better cameras and lenses instead of developing your skills). So, back in the Netherlands it made sense to start photographing birds.
I never realised there were so many different species, though. How could I have missed that? And what else was I missing about the world around me?
I set myself the rule to identify every bird I photographed, so I bought a couple of books and started my ‘collection’. Because that’s what it is, at first: collecting. You don’t want to take pictures of the same species over and over again. You want get a picture of as many different species as possible. So I bought some more gear…
Short-eared Owl. Netherlands.
After ‘collecting’ a hundred-and-fifty or so species I found myself photographing an European Oystercatcher and its chick. The adult was teaching the chick how to open mussels with its beak. I took a couple of shots and put away my camera (I already had pictures of Oystercatchers so I wasn’t too bothered). I sat there for more than half an hour just watching those two. There was a little story unfolding right before my eyes. A story about surviving in the wild and passing on skills from parent to child.
Back home I went through all my photos and found that not one of them told a story. They were just perfectly exposed, perfectly sharp, well composed meaningless pictures of birds looking at the camera. Now, as a perfectionist, I only ever take ‘mediocre pictures’ no matter how good they are, but these just weren’t good enough. If you want to produce compelling photographs, you really need to study your subject. So I joined a local ornithological group. And bought some more books…
Greylag Goose. Netherlands.
Nowadays, I coordinate a bird of prey research group, visit forty European Kestrel nest boxes and climb to the top of barn roofs to check twenty-four Barn Owl nest boxes three times a year. I’ve placed a Peregrine nest box on our towns bell tower and protected Harriers from combine harvesters. I count geese in winter and House Martins in summer. I’ve become so involved in bird research and protection, I don’t take that many pictures anymore.
Funny how knowledge can expand your world. Where I used to just hear birds, now I hear a Robbin singing in the shrubbery to the left, a Blackbird in the oak behind me. A Wren is calling from a bush on the right. In the distance I can hear a family of Barnacle-geese having a domestic argument. A Western Marsh Harrier slowly soars north overhead. The first one I’ve seen this year. Spring is coming!
Gannet. Bass Rock, Scotland.
All photos and text: © Mario Aspeslagh
You should really see the photo of the Gannets in a bigger format, so Mario generously provided us with a screensaver. Download it: here.
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