Sunday, 5 October 2008

Stick to the Day Job

Being an equal opportunities company, every so often the techies at BirdGuides are released from their digital shackles, handed a video camera (very expensive), a tripod (very heavy), and a BIG lens (very expensive and very heavy) and encouraged to go film some birds. Such has been my lot this week: yanked still dripping square brackets from my happy wallowing in Objective-C, and thrust out into the cold.

One of my occasional indulgences is a spot of seawatching, so when the forecast promised north-west gales, the time had come to bring my freshly polished cameraman skills to bear on all those shearwaters, skuas and petrels that were bound to be teeming past. Opening the car door at dawn on the very westerly tip of Donegal was nearly enough to send me scurrying back to my curly brackets, as the howling wind screamed like a banshee. But I persevered, assembled all my (heavy and very expensive) kit and, head bowed, strode off into the wind for the 2km yomp to that seawatching hermitage, Rocky Point.

Perched on the very edge of the cliff, a tiny stone-built seawatching cell has been not-so-carefully constructed by generations of bored birders, leaving nothing but ocean between you and Newfoundland. Deep-ocean waves slink in soundlessly and then pound their kinetic energy to oblivion at the foot of the cliff, sending worrying shock waves up through ornithologist bums. Forget talking, or even shouting - no-one can hear you; even breathing is optional as undiluted north-westerly gale is shoveled relentlessly down into your lungs. And with that 21st century hermit's lifeline, the mobile signal, having faded away completely, you are truly alone in a sort of elemental sensate bubble: bliss.


But, I hadn't dragged myself prematurely from a warm bed just to enjoy a spot of solitary therapy. There was the serious matter of those birds that should be teeming past below me, and the even more serious matter of unpacking the camera kit without losing any of those myriad bits and pieces like converter lenses (£700) over the cliff. The odd furtive glance through the bins, while maneuvering long lens onto camera body (akin to docking with space station) confirmed my suspicion that this could be a day to feature in BirdGuides filming lore: three dark-phase skuas and a Leach's Petrel beating their way past; supremely confident adult gannets surfing the wave troughs effortlessly, their dark offspring skimming gamely behind with just an occasional surreptitious wing-beat or two to keep them on course; a Red-throated Diver hurtling past on its no-nonsense trajectory.

With the tripod carefully positioned and levelled (always level the tripod: even if you miss the bird, the horizon will be right), and with the camera pointing in the right direction (lens seaward), I was all set. A couple of dry-run pans established that I'd be able to capture all those long sweeping shots without falling off my ergonomically positioned pile of stones, or demolishing a wall with the lens. With a distant skua heading my way, it was time for action. A practised twist of the dial flicked the camera to ON: nothing. Off again, on again - still nothing, no wee green light, no comforting expensive camera noises, no nothing at all. The skua came and went and, with it, my hopes for the day. Closing my eyes, I could see clearly, right beside the muesli packet - the fully-charged battery that should have been in the camera - on the kitchen table at home some 50 miles away.

3 comments:

Peregrine's Bird Blog said...

Shxt Happens!!! There is always the next North Westerly!!!

I have sat in that wee protected area on Rocky Point but fortunately never in the teeth of a Gale.

Here is my report on a couple of days at RP.
http://peregrinesbirdblog.blogspot.com/2006/10/migration-birding-in-donegal-and.html

Max said...

Well done on such a fine first post John. Did you check out the new Leach's Petrel footage that Fiona managed to shoot in Cheshire last week? I think its on the check DVD for the new video guide that you should have. M++

John Cromie said...

peregrine: thanks for the link. Sounds like you had a great time in Malinbeg!