Friday, October 5, 2012

Bird Blog bonanza!

Have been "tied to home" for the past couple of days awaiting calls and contacts from afar!  Managed to get another Winter Thrush Survey completed, albeit a nil return, but had passage Hen Harrier and Merlin moving through south through the SW Rinns of Islay as a consolation.

I used some of the time to take a look at a whole series of Blogs and websites to do with birds. It could be a habit hard to break if you got hooked as there are a  LOT !!  Somewhat idly I began to critically appraise them on the one hand and  ( unashamedly ) look for approaches and techniques I might adopt myself!  One immediate lesson was discovering some are given over to 90% photographs and 10% text and make you want to throw your camera equipment away!!  The lesson is clear though, pictures are a bonus and certainly something to consider, even confirmation shots or landscapes.

Some Blogs are simply a jumbled mess of reportage, are badly written with no real story line and are of questionable value due to being addressed to known "members" covering a local area. Sadly they're also so uniform and repetitive they could be written in advance.  Others are enviously brilliant!!  Where do they get the time from?  Like all good reporters too, they always seem to be at the right place at the right time and even manage a couple of photographs of competition quality !! I suspect more than a little forward planning goes into some entries, which is perhaps a lesson in itself.

Some sites simply promote guiding services, or accommodation, with tour reports, local site details, suggested itineraries and so on. You could have a very pleasant "Virtual Reality" type tour of , say, Australia by looking at a whole succession of linked sites for a given area or country! But these sites play a vital role when planning a trip, either at home or abroad, when it's necessary to get up to date details. A mention must also be made of the major holiday bird tour companies whose websites often include access to endless reports of past visits to various countries but who, understandably , don't always reveal the precise details of areas visited for specialities. Closely allied to these are the major websites we all know about, which catalogue and make available trip reports, and which can be blamed for many a lost afternoon or evening when time itself moves into a vacuum, then filled with an enthralling array of information relating to visits you'd love to emulate.

Undoubtedly there are Blog sites and web sites that provide useful information, but are designed to serve the "reputation" of the author in one way or another and, very often, underpin an accompanying commercial activity.  Attractive, yes, but aren't egos boring and repetitive in nature?  There are sites and Blogs directed at campaigning ( I'm one of them at times! ),  from which the revelations  can be a clarion call for action and even shocking at times. However, some are little more than sites pursuing a self-serving process of recrimination and criticism of others, are lacking in balance, usually big on exaggeration and distortion and, despite their best efforts, result in producing something little better than pedantry. But we support free speech after all ( you don't have to read it of course ! )  and I'm convinced fringe views are often read for entertainment value, as opposed to securing any change from, or having influence on, the views of the reader.

Whilst I suspect all this has been little more than a scratching of the surface of what is available, it's certainly worth the effort. Notwithstanding the design and style elements , I've been transported into the delights of warbler passage in North America, raptor watching in Nepal and the results from pelagics. However, we've all surfed the web and enjoyed similar "discoveries" , but deliberately looking at the style and approach of other people  completing a similar activity to yourself is beneficial . There's also lots of advice around as well, for example, take a look at the list of recommendations Mark Avery includes in his book, " Blogging for Nature".

 Sadly, besides discovering new sites, some favourites "die" too, as time to maintain output is squeezed or removed altogether. Overall though, it's a fascinating exercise nonetheless and has resulted in my list of Bookmarked sites now being at an all time high!! From a personal perspective it's certainly an exercise that is well worth the effort, highlights a number of pitfalls and suggests many new ideas to follow. Armed with all this wisdom I suspect many of the Blogs I've put out in the past might carry a "comment" at the bottom saying, "Can do better". However, I was a bit unprepared for the immediate reaction which came from a colleague, quite spontaneously, when I discussed the topic with him last evening.  "You're putting out too much feature material", he said. " I know you feel writing up what you've seen during the day can seem similar to what you wrote about the week before, but people like reading the routine birding stuff as well. Don't give up on Hen Harriers , but let's hear what you're up to."  He did give some slightly more colourful instructions about not reporting  too frequently particular species he rarely encounters !!  On reflection, I think he's right and that it's healthy to be prepared to take a step back, and then embrace, a fresh approach to the routine.  So it looks like variety, photographs and a few other tweaks are necessary, and that the time spent delving into various Blogs and sites has not been wasted.       Anything to avoid the "Can do better"!!
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