This article first appeared in Birds Illustrated
Are you old enough to remember Miss Hathaway in the original ‘Beverly Hillbillies’? If so you may recognise her as the archetype of the nerdy birder. We’re used to being the lesser-spotted twitcher bestrewn with outdated overweight optics dressed all in WWII kaki replete in baggy Boy Scout shorts. We have long since given up any hope of being shown closer to our real selves but surely the media can do better with birds than they do with birders?
So I am promoting myself to the media… calling all TV Stations, Radio Broadcasters and Filmmakers… I am available for consultation next time you want to use any sort of bird image, sound or live exhibit in your film, programme or even advert.
I just watched ‘Miss Potter’ with the wife, and, at the risk of ruining my credentials as a super cool legend, I admit to enjoying it, no doubt because she was such a champion of conservation of England’s Lake District. However, my enjoyment was curtailed by the use of stock audio footage to accompany a walk alongside one of the lakes. I know it is stock footage, probably from a US production company… not because I am a film buff of the first order, but because of the calls of Great Northern Divers… or should I say Common Loons. Any UK birder will know that it is a few hundred miles south of any breeding birds let alone their beautiful haunting calls – all very atmospheric for the average film-goer but unbelievable annoying to birders.
It’s not as though this is an isolated case either.
A while back the BBC produced a brilliant show called ‘The Romans’, noted for its production values, graphic detail and historical accuracy, red in tooth and claw. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed the sex and violence but I really objected to their parrots! The Romans expanded into North Africa and Asia as far as India so I could happily accept Ring-necked Parakeets and even African Greys, but I was unaware of the Romans discovery of America… how else would macaws have turned up unless we are to believe that they are long-range migrants!
I have lost count of the number of times TV and films sent me into paroxysm through paltry production. One of my all time un-favourites was further proof of early American conquest… not Columbus or even the Vikings but apparently King Arthur made it there too, as one of his henchman was seen sporting a Harris Hawk on his arm!
I’m annoyed at the Irish Bird Records Committee for not sharing that tawny owls have colonised Ireland… a fact I am often acquainted with whenever there is a night time shot on any programme set in the Emerald Isle as it is surely always accompanied by their hoots. I’m surprised too at just how widespread nightingales appear to be singing in British suburban gardens even when they should be sunning themselves in Africa.
Mind you the British are as bad – I’ve never heard mention of British Bluejays but I’ve clearly seen them in London in ‘101 Dalmatians’ – alongside our racoons? This Hollywood howler has a noble history… remember Fay Rae and ‘King Kong’ or ‘Africa Queen’ and the like? Some of you will have noticed that the bird calls sprinkled throughout the footage of our heroes hacking through jungle are almost always those of South America Species no matter where in the globe the movie is set.
I’m informed by American friends that they cringe at their fair share of bloopers too… such as an Eastern Screech Owl being heard at the opening of E.T. which is set in California! There is also a Red-tailed hawk heard on the South Pacific island where the last ‘Lord of the Flies’ movie was made… another case of long-range reverse migration?
My wife tells me not to be such a nerd; that every professional or hobbyist must have to swallow hard at how little respect is afforded to fact in drama but I still think it is indefensible. No one would put up with a film showing palm trees in Iceland or Polar Bears in Peru [although there is one in Hawaii if you watch ‘Lost’] so why should birders put up with anachronistic, geographical or diurnal rubbish about birds?
So I have invented the ‘Golden Booby’ – an annual prize going to the worst example of this shoddy shortcut or lazy research; let me know if I have missed one of your favourites!