Monday, April 15, 2013

Scary or distracting?

click photo to enlarge
Wood pigeons are a problem for farmers in the area where I live. In the absence of natural predators in the numbers that there once were they have multiplied tremendously. Accurate figures are difficult to come by. The RSPB estimates 2,570,000-3,160,000 territories (i.e. breeding pairs). These figures don't count the additional birds that come to Britain from continental Europe during the winter. I sometimes see flocks of a thousand or so birds on fields of sprouts. When these are mature plants they do little damage, eating only the new, leafy tops. However, on newly or recently planted fields they can be extremely destructive. Consequently the farmers fight back with a battery of bird scarers. Spinning metal windmills, scarecrows of varying levels of inventiveness, rotating globes with eyes, flags with one side black and the other white, kites in the shape of birds of prey, inflatable people that rise from the ground accompanied by flashing lights and a siren, and gas-powered "guns" that sound like shotguns are just some of the devices used to keep the wood pigeons off the crops.

A piece of research that I read last year concluded that most of these have an effect for a short period until the birds get used to them, then they might as well not be there. The gas guns are the most effective but the least liked by the people who live nearby. A while ago someone bought us a bird scaring device for our vegetable garden. It is a roll of what is described as "repeller ribbon": 30 metres of 5cm wide silver, metallic, iridescent, holographic ribbon designed to flash and flicker in the breeze when hung from trees, sticks or string. It looks like the sort of thing that might have been manufactured for another purpose - party decoration, for example - that some enterprising person thought could be used in a different way. We've just put some over an area that we have sown with grass seed. Does it work? I suspect not, but it isn't doing any harm.

Looking at it the other day as it thrashed about in the wind, glittering in its rainbow-like way, it occurred to me that there might be a macro photograph in it. So I cut a few short lengths, laid them together irregularly in a patch of sunlight and moved my camera until I found a composition and colours that I liked. As I was taking my shots I reflected that perhaps the way it is designed to work is by distracting the birds, encouraging them to gaze on the beauty of the multi-coloured triangles, flickers and flashes, thus causing them to forget all about eating the seeds and plants. Distraction rather than scaring -  a different way of coming at the problem! Or perhaps not.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  +0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On