Life through the lens — with both eyes open

Meeting date

Keith Kirk (Dumfries and Galloway Council Ranger Service)

Meeting report

Keith Kirk, a native of Castle Douglas, who is employed by the Dumfries and Galloway Council Ranger Service, was the guest speaker at the meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society held on 24 October 2014. His topic was Life through the Lens — with both eyes open. Readers of a popular local magazine are well-acquainted with his abiding interest in wild life and his photographic skills.

It is advisable, he suggests, for the beginner to start with something easy, like a family pet, or large, like a swan. A golden eagle is too ambitious. Ability to identify wildlife is a pre-requisite. A licence is required for schedule-one nest-site filming of the kingfisher, for example.

The serious wildlife photographer requires a hide, samples of which were demonstrated on screen. None is perfect. The aim is to be as unobtrusive as possible and, keeping low, to advance by degrees to the site or subject of interest. If a bird begins to look edgy it is necessary to back off.

Consider the equipment available now to enhance 'life through the lens' … Any reasonably good camera will suffice. Most people engaged in fieldwork admit that digital SLR photography, initially rejected by the purist, has brought about unimagined benefits. The telephoto lens can move round a scene and sections can be stitched together imperceptibly. Trail cameras are squirrel and badger proof (but not lion proof — nothing to worry about in Dumfries and Galloway!) Night vision cameras capture shy creatures like the otter. A tripod must come up to eye level to avoid backache. The practised wildlife photographer finds it important to be well-supplied, even laden with essential equipment.

It is now possible to mix high quality video with stills: the results demonstrated were impressive, badgers emerging from a sett, for instance. Keith suggested that though parts of a scene can be out of focus the technology is coming on stream to rectify such situations. His advice: be careful what you throw away. Spypoint Live enables the camera to trip in the wild and notify the man sitting at home of the scene that has been shot.

Interspersing the types of equipment being shown were superb wildlife studies, all of which had been taken in Dumfries and Galloway — everything from the bog bush cricket at Dalbeattie to the dunnock (hedge sparrow) to the nuthatch (now widespread in Scotland) to the barnacle goose. The goosander is a regular sight on the Nith. The black guillemot with its striking red feet was filmed at Portpatrick, where it was nesting in the harbour wall. Castramont Wood is a good place for pied flycatchers. In taking a shot of teal at Caerlaverock, Keith was surprised to find an American green-winged teal present. Even the gannet was photographed on mainland Galloway, not on the Bass Rock. It emerged that a locally-viewed male osprey, bearing the number 80, had been ringed in Wales. Red squirrels like to frequent trees but food will attract them down. His sparrowhawk and kingfisher pictures were of the highest order and must have taken hours of patient watching and waiting to achieve.

The range of wildlife that can be filmed in Dumfries and Galloway makes the area an excellent destination for the enthusiastic wildlife watcher and photographer. The winter roost of starlings massing at dusk at Gretna was voted in sixth place in a wildlife competition. The short-winged conehead (a small green bush cricket) showed up at Gretna, its first sighting in the region.

Keith was applauded for his knowledge and for the spectacular results achieved by his passion for recording the natural world on his native heath.