“Spring migration in the lighthouse of Cabo de Palos”

Richard  Howard is a prestigious and respected birder who lives permanently in the area of Campo de Cartagena (Spain) since 1986. He does not claim to be a photographer, only a birdwatcher who likes to take photos of what he sees and share them. This is his way of saying what you know … although, as he says, none of them would win a photography competition. Or maybe yes.?

© Richard Howard

How did your love of wildlife start?

I have always loved going out into the countryside from when I was about 7 years old, climbing into trees at night with a red lamp to watch badgers; netting newts in a local pond; trying to count the eggs in nests of local swans.  My love of birdwatching started when I began as a volunteer at a local nature reserve at weekends when I was 17.  The full-time warden was very good at identifying birds and got a group of us interested.  We would go out on a trip once a month to ‘distant’ places such as reservoirs and marshes and see birds that we could never see locally.  From that I became a ‘twitcher’ before it became popular, hitchhiking to different parts of the UK just to see (or not) a particular bird.  August weekends were normally spent on the north Norfolk coast, and I often spent a week in October either on Cape Clear (Ireland) or on the Scilly Isles (UK).

I started ringing birds in the mid 1970’s, getting my full license in 1977, and from then on spent most of my free time ringing rather than zooming around the country.

In August 1977 I went on my first ringing trip abroad, to Lameira (close to Oporto, Portugal), which I absolutely loved, seeing so many different and colourful birds in the hand, and in January 1978, ostensibly on a 6 month trip to work in a kibbutz in Israel, I got in contact with the people running the ringing scheme there, who invited me to take charge of a ringing campaign in Elat for 3 months.  I obviously jumped at the chance, and saw and ringed some superb western palearctic birds including a couple of firsts for Israel!

Work brought me to the La Manga Club, initially on several month long trips in 1984, then permanently from 1986 onwards, and I’ve been in the Mar Menor area of Spain ever since.

I went through a period of virtually giving up birdwatching for about 15 years due to not knowing anyone in the area who shared the hobby/obsession and also because I had a son to bring up, but since 2006 onwards, have got strongly back into it, going out 2 or 3 times a week and most weekends.

How did you get started in naturalist photography?

I’ve always wanted to keep a visual form of the birds I’ve seen, and as I’m not an artist, the only way to do so was by photography. As here in Spain the light is so much better and more predictable than in the UK, I used to take a lot of photos, but this was in the days of slides and waiting up to 3 weeks to get them developed.
I restarted my birdwatching at more or less the same time as digital photography became affordable and so a decent camera was always a high priority.

What photographic equipment do you use?

Currently a NIKON D300S with 80-400 mm zoom lens, and for close up, a NIKON D200 with 25-80mm zoom.  I have tried digiscoping, but find I don’t get along with it.  However I have recently purchased a MINOX camera unit which fixes to the telescope in place of an eyepiece, and am currently trying it out.

What kind of naturalistic photography appeals to you most?

I’m not someone who can sit in a hide for hours on end waiting for birds to appear.  I consider myself a birdwatcher who likes to take photos rather than a photographer interested in birds.  The vast majority of my photos are taken while I’m out and about on a visit somewhere – very few of them are of the high quality required by magazines, but as I only take the photos more or less for personal use, they are good enough for me.

Any kind of bird in particular?

My favorite groups of birds are waders and passerines, and I enjoy getting photos that show the salient identification points of the birds.

Do you publish your photographic work somewhere?

Apart from my personal blog, I put reports into ‘faunamurcia’ and the ‘Anuario Ornitologico de la Region de Murcia’ (AORM).

You have an awesome photo collection! Do you work at this professionally?

The short answer is NO!  However, if I see an opportunity to take photos, I will generally take 10 rather than 1, and the law of averages says that I might get a decent one.

You do some other activity related with nature and wildlife?

I virtually give up birdwatching during June until mid-July, as there is very little movement of birds, most at this time are nesting, and I disapprove of bothering nesting birds.  Last year I started to get interested in Odonata (Dragon and Damselflies) which keeps me out in the field!

Finally, tell us something about the work we see on this page?

My ‘local patch’ is the area of the Mar Menor close to Cabo de Palos, and I am frequently at Calblanque or the salinas of Marchamalo.  However over the spring (end of February to mid May) of the last 4 years I have been doing an almost daily study of migrants using the area around the lighthouse at Cabo de Palos.  The photos are all taken around the lighthouse, and nearly all during this study.  All are using the 400mm of the zoom with the camera hand-held, taken as I walk around the area.

Interview by: J. M. Escarabajal (Birding Murcia)


The images that appear in this article are the property of Richard Howard is necessary to request permission to the author for publication or any other use of the same.