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The use of playback

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Old Thursday 26th July 2007, 18:55   #1
Clive Watson
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The use of playback

Surprisingly, I can't find a thread on this forum about using playback, I'm sure someone will direct me to it if there is one...

I just wondered what people's thoughts were on the use of playback to obtain photos. I know some people consider it unacceptable under any circumstances, but plenty of people are going to do it anyway, so I thought that if some experiences and words of wisdom could be shared here, it might be possible to educate people in how to use it more effectively (including myself). I'm particularly interested to get some thoughts on which species it works best with.

Personally I don't have a major problem with it so long as it's not used excessively and the species is relatively common but I don't dispute it can cause disturbance if used inappropriately.

Comments please (there should be a few!)
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Old Thursday 26th July 2007, 19:39   #2
mike from ebbw
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OOERR!You have opened up a big can of worms now!I asked the same question a while back on the recording thread and got my knuckles rapped a bit.Best of luck.
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Old Thursday 26th July 2007, 19:53   #3
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That would explain why I couldn't find it. I thought the subject must have come up at some point.
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Old Thursday 26th July 2007, 23:00   #4
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Are you that desperate to lure them in artificially? If you are not even sure what to take photo's of in the first place, then surely there is no hurry to go out and get photos by this method? If you are ok with taking photos of common species, and this is the best place to start, why not try the much more rewarding way of using fieldcraft and stalking the birds on there own ground.

I fear from your question, that you are another of these 'must have now regardless of the concequences' type, new to the game, looking for a quick win, and cant be bothered to put in the legwork. Sorry for the rant!
Bird photography is all about patience and a little bit of luck, the more you put in to it- the more you will get out of it.
My suggestion is start at a bird feeding area, parks and gardens etc then try out local nature reserves and watch what types of species you could target with the equipment you own.
Good Luck.
(somebody confiscate the tape recorder batteries before he has second thoughts).
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Old Friday 27th July 2007, 12:23   #5
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No, not really, I've been taking photos since 1995, firstly with priints, then slides and now digital. I wasn't very clear in my original statement: I know the general range of species that playback is used for but I was just wondering if people knew of any specific instances where it works well.

I stick to my original point though, playback is an established technique that is used and will continue to be used by many people, not just photographers, whether you like it or not. And I don't dispute that it is open to abuse. So why not try and make its' use as effective as possible?
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Old Friday 27th July 2007, 12:42   #6
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Originally Posted by Clive Watson View Post
I stick to my original point though, playback is an established technique that is used and will continue to be used by many people, not just photographers, whether you like it or not. And I don't dispute that it is open to abuse. So why not try and make its' use as effective as possible?
There's a lot things we could do in life if we went by "well other people do it, whether you like it or not, so why shouldn't we...?". Personally I think bird-watching and bird-photography should be about having as little impact on your subjects as possible, and tape-luring stresses birds out something rotten as they think there's a sudden territorial threat. I hate the idea of birders and photographers not giving a jot about the welfare of the birds they claim to love in order to get that tick/photo. I know you've stated you appreciate how overuse can be stressful, but how can any of us genuinely claim to have the expertise to gage how much or little we can get away with before it's harmful?

Why not try pishing (making a bizarre squeaking noise to attract small birds)? Birds tend to be attracted to it due to curiosity rather than because they feel threatened. Some people still frown on it, but it's generally considered far less stressful. I've never had any luck, but some swear by it!
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Old Friday 27th July 2007, 13:07   #7
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Yes, I pretty much agree with all that you say here! Of course, we can't judge how much playback is too much. And I agree with you about pishing, it should be less stressful; I've used it to reasonable effect in the past, although I'm bound to say that it fails more than it succeeds (unless I'm doing it wrong).

I'm quite prepared to own up to my peccadilloes: I've used playback once, on my local Whitethroats in the spring. Having waited for several days for one to show without success, I tried some playback out of curiosity to see if would have any effect. It failed miserably and that's why I wanted to gauge other peoples' opinions rather than just trying it again and again.
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Old Friday 27th July 2007, 13:22   #8
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Why not try pishing (making a bizarre squeaking noise to attract small birds)? Birds tend to be attracted to it due to curiosity rather than because they feel threatened. Some people still frown on it, but it's generally considered far less stressful. I've never had any luck, but some swear by it!
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It's a difficult on this one. I've also tried pishing with little success, but do any of us really know (or can measure scientifically) just how much impact tape luring, or even pishing etc can have on birds?

I think this is where individual observers have to exercise their own judge ment, though obviously not all will agree on what is an acceptable level of disturbance. I suppose it could be argued that just being there watching birds is causing them a certain amount of disturbance, especially when close to nesting sites. Even approaching feeding waders, for example, causes unnecessary stress at a time when they are busy feeding-up for migration. For such birds literally every second counts when you factor in weather conditions, tide times and shorter day-length at certain times of the year.

It seems to me that current technology has introduced another topic for debate (quite rightly IMHO), with the unfortunate danger that any form of tape luring is labelled as bad, and that anyone seen doing it should be strung-up by their binocular straps! Even the mere mention of it gets the hackles up of many people on this forum.

I would never advocate tape luring near breeding birds' nest sites, or even on busy nature reserves (where it might encourage others of a less sensible disposition), but can't see a big problem with it for short periods if used with discretion.

IMHO there is a massive difference between using recordings to get a bird to reveal itself for a quick view or record shot, than pestering it for hours so that its eggs or chicks are abandoned in the nest. Similarly, there is an equally big difference between standing back and watching a bird feeding and going about its business (as happens at most well-behaved twitches), than repeatedly harassing a rarity until it 'gives itself up' (not my words).

I would be happy to hear the views of others on this topic, because it certainly won't go away anytime soon.
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Old Friday 27th July 2007, 14:13   #9
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I certainly agree that playback is by no means the only form of disturbance. Stalking and setting up a feeding station also cause disturbance (if the local Sparrowhawk finds it). Even walking down the path at Titchwell causes disturbance. Of course, the pros far outweigh the cons (imagine if the Titchwell site was a huge housing estate) and I think within reason, birds have to deal with disturbance all the time and learn to cope with it.

Playback is a special case of course, because it is necessarily targeted towards breeding, or at least singing birds. But I think as mentioned before it is impossible to judge the degree of harm accurately. I certainly don't intend to start using it regularly any time soon!
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