Tuesday, 6 August 2013

'Les Animaux des Alps'- An Afternoon with Brian Chough

I got a wee confession. I don't speak French. At all. I don't mean i'm bean all self-depricating and modest, I literally cannotstring a sentence together in a coherent fashion, so it may surprise some peopel that I absolutely bloody love France. Partly cos I don't even have to try to explain what the hell i'm doing crawling along the road, or lying in the mud, or sitting on someone's land when I ought'nt to be, or the list could go on. But it won't.

But I really like France for the meadows. But Joe, I hear you ask in my head (I should probably get that checked out), we have perfectly good meadows here don't we? But you're wrong, so wrong. You haven't seen a meadow if you ain't seen the ones of the continental hills, meadows as far as you can see, as far up the hills as they go (OK up to the snow line).

And so when my family decided to do the Tour de Mont Blanc I was prepared to fight tooth and nail to get my camera gear into our modest allowance of stuff to carry. It was always going to be an ask for me to take a full DSLR camera kit, so I stripped it back quite a bit, just to the 'bare essentials':

Canon 50D
Sigma 120-400mm
Canon 18-55mm
Extender tubes (c.100mm)
Milk-bottle Diffuser

And so the stage is set, the players cast and my rucksack altogether more heavily laden than it has any right to be. Let the TMB begin! Wait no, we won't do a conventional chronological report, that'd be boring. Besides, introducing the creatures of 'la montagnes' one at a time will allow for more elaboration. Yes, i'll do that. And I'll start with my favourite of all the alpine birds, the Alpine Chough...

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Chough, for me at least, evoke hours of waiting patiently waiting on the paths at South Stack for one to happen upon me. They are accomodating, incredibly so at times, though I find that when I actively try and approach one they're less complient. I think it must be something to do with their intelligence, they know when they're being stalked.

But this time I found them, or rather they found me. On our way round the TMB they were one of the commonest birds we encountered, often flocking up in excess of one hundred birds. However, my first extended views of one up close were at Col du Bonhomme (Bonne Homme? Good Man? Maybe 'Gentleman'? Says the guy who doesn't speak French), as one spiralled up from the snowy, glaciated valley below...

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...but the refuge at Croix du Bonhomme (the 'Cross of the Gentleman'? Could the 'Bonhomme' be Jesus?) proved to be far more fruitful for these charasmatic birds. They're strictly monogamous and bond for life, which can be seen in the way you either see family groups or pairs. Here below the refuge the Chough had learned to take food, so I could watch them flying away or in to feed their babies. Their squabbly, raspy tones became a good indicator of an incoming bird...

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...now i'm something of a BiF puritan and a pedant; birds in flight should, in my view, be against an interesting backdrop. That means I don't like birds against a brilliant blue sky. But as the stormclouds rolled in for the night that mix of shiny black and dulled greys combined with an afternoon sun prompted me to take a rare 'bird against the sky' shot...

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...and as the 'exception that proves the rule', here's another one...!

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...and as the light fades you've only got one option; go all arty-farty. Well these birds are really quite acrobatic, perhaps I should add a photo that emphasises this point...?

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...some people will have just have inadvertently dribbled on their keyboards in awe of the sheer artiness and unprecedented fartiness of that shot (go wipe it up before anyone sees it), others, like me, consider it an abomination and don't consider it a 'proper' photo. So they you have it, a perfect storm in a teacup.

But believe it or not these birds do spend some time on the ground, not that you'd know from my meagre photographic record. But they do, and I can prove it...!

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...Lovely flowers too. But over much of Choughland (as I've renamed the Savoie Alps) the terrain is a little less rich, as this portrait kinda shows...

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...or this one...

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...but some Chough are tamer than others and the birds at Lac Blanc were the tames i've ever encountered. I'm just saying 55mm and soft cheeses, nothing else...

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...actually sod the cloak and dagger, these birds came in on our picnic and in true stingy British fashion we allowed them the rind of some cheese to eat. This lead to some utterly privileged views...

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...with the Lac in the background...

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...in flight, again its against the blue sky but I excuse this with the crazy trippy sun in the top left...

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...back to the wide-angle stuff, with the Massif du Mont Blanc in the background...

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...and to end it all, a bird with Lac Blanc in the background. These birds have pretty much made my summer, I am (to quote the wee aliens in Toy Story) 'Eternally Grateful...'

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