GOB 116 – Dumbing Up

Dumbing Up

(This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

I’m not stupid, no really, I’m not. I start every day with the Times Crossword (although I admit there are days when I have finished the day with it still half solved). I have a degree (although nothing I learned has been useful since). The course was experimental and for misfits, my friends included a prince from a breakaway Nigerian state, a communist journalist who fled Malaysia and a mercenary lately returned from the Vietnam war. Course entrants had to be bolshie and bright but with little supporting academic evidence. 1968 was a great year to be a student – I spent more time marching, sitting-in and otherwise protesting than I ever did studying. I spent my course’s built-in gap year as a social worker in south London, which was a taste of raw reality that taught me that practicality triumphs over the intellectual every time.

Why am I baring my barely intellectual soul? Well, it’s because when it comes to birding I am technically challenged, just as I am when confronted with an Ikea flat-pack or the instructions for installing a video doorbell. In particular, despite a number of serious attempts I just can’t get to grips with digiscoping.

I’ve long since divorced myself from any sort of relationship with a ‘proper’ camera. If its not just point and snap forget it! If taking a photo involves understanding F Stops and shutter speeds, depths of field and optical zooms I’d be better off trying to learn lip reading and Mandarin Chinese at the same time. You could hear my cheer 30 miles away when I found that I could take photos with my phone just by waving it about in the general direction of the subject matter and tapping the screen. All I know is that millions of mega pixels relieve me of the obligation to understand what I am doing.

I may not quite manage duck-faced selfies in front of well-known tourist sites, but I can manage to snap Hawkeye eating at our favourite restaurant, or make a blurred image of my own mouth ulcer to expand for closer examination.

But what I would like to be able to do is prove to my son that it really was a ring-necked duck I saw the other day and not a tuftie duck with the sun on its face. I’d like to capture a late afternoon in the company of short-eared owls or pick out for posterity a long-billed dowitcher among the massed black-tailed godwits.

The trouble is, despite being supplied by the makers with all the gubbins needed to join my phone to my scope I just cannot seem to make it happen. It wasn’t until I saw someone else with the thing set up, that I realised I had it 90 degrees to where it should have been. But even when I can actually see an image on my phone screen, it is half obscured by a view of the inside of my telescope!

My best attempt at a ‘record’ shot of a funny wader on a frosty day resulted in a picture of lens condensation and a distant fuzzy tussock. Damn it, I couldn’t even get a shot of a passing bullock, let alone a blackwit.

Twenty years ago, I held a ‘point and shoot’ phone to the eyepiece of my scope and managed better images than I can now with all the gear… although to be frank they were still a duck’s dinner. So I’m sending back my birding paparazzi press card and sticking to just enjoying what I see.

Rant it out!
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