When I was a kid growing up in Finglas, in north Dublin, it seemed that my parents always had some wise saying or other to meet every occasion.
Ours was a typically working class area. We lived in a lovely ‘corpo’ (county council) house and had a small back garden (I have gone into it in more detail in my memoir, Don’t Die in Autumn). I had a great childhood. However, while us kids never knew it, Ma and Da worked very hard to make our lives good. I now realise that, at times, they must have felt pressurised by us…such as when we looked for something that was a little too expensive because ‘our friends had them’. It was then that such wise sayings would be produced, as if by magic, to suit our requests.
‘Patience is a virtue!’, Ma would say.
‘All in its own good time’ was another favourite of hers. Of course such sayings didn’t get me what I wanted but they did offer some hope of achieving those goals down the road…if I was patient, it might just happen.
A classic example of this sprung to mind recently when I saw a picture posted on FaceBook of a 'Chopper'. For those who are not of my era (I was born in 1961), a Chopper was ‘the bike’ to have. They had ‘easy-rider’ handlebars, a long comfortable saddle and three gears. Two lads in my class had them. They were the envy of us all. They were of course about £50 to buy…probably more than Da’s monthly wages.
But Da being Da, he didn’t want to let me (or any of us) down. My sister Clare had a bike called a Golden Arrow…she wasn’t using it so Da set about creating a bike that was as close to a Chopper as he could make. He bought easy-rider handlebars and a long saddle, fitted them onto this bike and cleaned and oiled it until it was sparkling.
‘Everything comes to those who wait’, he said smiling, as he presented it to me. That bike was my pride and joy.
So, where is all this going you might well ask? What’s all this got to do with birds…this is meant to be a bird blog, isn’t it?
Patience, patience…I’m getting there.
Patience with a camera
You see, from an early age I learned to be patient. I have given hundreds of talks around the country and one talk in particular is very popular. It is my ‘Year of Birds – a photographic journey of the seasons’. It is a collection of my best images and is constantly evolving as I get new shots. So many people who attend these talks comment that ‘you must be so patient to get those shots’.
However, it’s time for a confession. When it comes to actually sitting in a hide for days on end to capture an image, I have zero patience. I just can’t do it. I don’t have the patience for it. I recently spent three hours waiting to photograph a Jay. Three hours poised in camouflage netting waiting. Nothing happened. Then I turned to take a drink of water, the Jay appeared right where I had hoped it would, took the food and was gone. I got a perfect shot of its tail. I almost went mad…'Feck this sitting in a hide lark!’
No, let me be just out and about with a camera any day! When I am out with the camera, it's more about capturing moments that happen in front of me. Moments that are natural and real. They are one-off moments that I am privileged to witness and, if possible, photograph.
Any image of a bird that looks alert and upright always makes me wonder if the photographer has gone too close…gone within the comfort zone of bird. When I’m taking shots, it’s always on the birds terms. I firmly believe that if a bird wants to be photographed, then it will let you take that shot. Patience of a different sort is what is needed. Don’t push the bird, don’t rush the bird. It will allow you that shot if it is meant to be. Field craft and technical skill helps to capture bird images…but patience is the best skill in the world.
All in its own good time
I have to admit that on occasions my patience is severely tried. In early July I wrote a blog (On Ambitions Fulfilled) about capturing my first image of a Cuckoo following a 34 year wait. It certainly was a long wait to get that shot. In that blog I wrote:
“It has taken me 34 years to fulfil this modest ambition but what a feeling of joy at having achieved it. Perhaps like a bus, I might have waited so long for one to come along only to find that lots more will suddenly turn up waiting to be photographed. I hope so. Perhaps I’ll get a better shot.”
Well that is exactly what has happened. Having waited 34 years to photograph a Cuckoo, suddenly three young Cuckoos appeared along my local patch at Newcastle in Wicklow (where I have now lived for five years) and spent almost two weeks posing for everyone, including me. They were so tame, it was incredible. They were like Cuckoo-ambassadors sent to make amends for the years I have spent in my fruitless efforts to get a Cuckoo shot
It’s a strange thing to say, but I believe that the photographs I managed to capture of these birds are more cherished by me because of the time it has taken me to get them.
And stranger still, as I was taking those shots, my late father’s voice came into my head…
‘Everything comes to those who wait’.
Wise words indeed.