The reader who has followed me so far and who has obtained the necessary apparatus will, no doubt, be getting anxious to make a start in the practical work. I propose, therefore, to ask him to accompany me on an excursion to look for some birds' nests, with the idea of making some studies of them. But, before we start, it will be necessary to point out several facts which will have a distinct bearing on the subject. First of all, the would-be Nature Photographer must learn to cultivate a keen perception of sight and sound, so that he can both see and hear things about him which to the ordinary individual would pass unnoticed. There is a little story, which I remember having read some time ago, which illustrates what I mean. One boy goes for a walk and comes back unable to give an account of any interesting things he has seen during his ramble. Another boy, who has been over the very same ground, returns with glowing descriptions of the many objects which have come under his notice, and proves thereby that it is not a question of whether the interesting things are there or not, but whether they can be observed and appreciated.
How is this faculty to be acquired ? By constantly bringing the powers of observation into play, by putting two and two together, so to speak, and by trying to anticipate, as it were, and so be prepared for the unexpected to happen, as it often does. The observer who knows what he is looking for will be the one most likely to see it. The saying of Joseph Wolf, the celebrated animal painter, which I have placed opposite the title page of this book, is one full of truth, as I have proved over and over again: " We see distinctly only what we know thoroughly! " If the observer will keep these words in mind they will stimulate him to learn as much as he can about the objects he wishes to study and photograph.
One excellent way of learning to see is by learning to draw. It is astonishing how few persons can see correctly, and they only find this out after going through a course of lessons in drawing. As I am writing particularly for young people, I would advise those who are anxious to cultivate the power of observation to join one of the many Schools of Art in the country and to take up a course of work, not with the idea of making pictures, but with the object of training the eye to see correctly. Not only will it prove useful in this way, but every photographer ought to understand, amongst other things, the principles of light and shade, and to be able to make a rough sketch from Nature, which at times will be invaluable to him.
My early training in the art of finding nests was given to me by my father, and I can recall many delightful excursions into the country after school hours during the lovely evenings of spring and early summer; and can even remember going with my grandfather on several occasions for the same purpose. But I was never allowed to rob the nest of its contents or disturb it in any way, the object of the excursion being simply for the pleasure of finding and observing the birds and their nests. I have no wish to be egotistical, and hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say I believe my powers of observation, owing to the good training I have received, are quite equal to those of the majority of people, but nevertheless I have been surprised at times, when out with a good gamekeeper who was interested in the study of Natural History—and I rejoice to say I know several such—to find' how much sharper his eyes were than my own. I have often learnt a good lesson from him in the way of deducing facts— which have later on turned out to be correct—from little things which would certainly have been passed over by any untrained eyes.
Having said this much, I trust it has been made clear that to start out in the hope of finding birds' nests without any knowledge of the birds themselves, or of the places where their beautiful little homes would be most likely to occur, would be almost as bad as trying to find something which had never been lost, and with about as much chance of success. If, therefore, no opportunity has hitherto occurred of obtaining some knowledge of birds and their nests, it must either be done now by consulting a hand-book dealing with such matters, or if the services of a companion who possesses the required knowledge can be obtained, we shall be able to set out with a prospect, at least, of bringing back some exposed plates. Birds'-nesting is very uncertain sport, and I have often walked miles without finding any subjects, beyond a few common ones which I already possessed photographs of. On other occasions some most interesting finds have turned up quite unexpectedly, and the uncertainty of what we may come upon only makes the work of looking more exciting. One point I wish particularly to impress upon all my readers, and that is, never disturb the nest or the owners of it more than you can help. Remember it is their home, upon which they have spent many hours of constant toil and labour, and be careful to see that nothing is done which would be likely to cause them unnecessary distress, or occasion them to forsake their treasures. There is no reason, however, if the work be carefully and properly carried out, why anything of this kind should occur.
A few hints on finding nests may be useful to those who have had little or no experience. The commoner kinds of birds—and these are the ones we are most likely to discover at first—seem to prefer to nest near to the habitations of human beings; and if we can obtain permission to search in and around the garden of a country cottage, or on the outskirts of a farm, or, failing either of these places, along the road-side, not far from some cottages, we shall be almost certain of some finds. The disadvantage of the road-side is that so many of the nests situated there are plundered by boys, so when one is found which it is desired to make a study of, the photograph should be taken at the time of discovery, or a visit later on for the purpose may prove to be too late. One reason, no doubt, of the preference of birds for the vicinity of houses or farms is that they pick up a great deal of food of one sort or another, and in many cases birds nesting near habitations will be tamer than those of the same species which nest farther away from the haunts of human beings.