On the 27th of April Leica London are excited to be hosting a walk with co-leader of the Feminist Bird Club London and bird taxidermist, Elle Kaye.

For those who dont know you, please you introduce yourself.

Im Elle Kaye, a taxidermist, birder, conservationist and nature advocate living in London. I orientate all my endeavours around the natural world. This can be seen through my intimate work with birds as a taxidermist, where I see my work as a contribution to taxonomy, through to interviewing scientists on my podcast Specimens. Or hosting birding walks for women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ folk to help cultivate a safe and inclusive space in the outdoors for those that historically may not have had access to it.

How did you get into taxidermy?

I grew up wanting to be a vet, but at school I wasnt particularly academic which hindered my career prospects. I was naturally skilled as an artist, and went to University to study sculpture. Once I got there, I felt quite lost. I didnt feel passionate about my practice, and thought about leaving. In discussion with a tutor, I revealed I still had an interest in animals, anatomy and biology: they then suggested I try taxidermy. Marrying anatomical understanding with sculptural mastery, it was the perfect fit. I self-taught for the duration of University, using literature from the library and videos on YouTube, and when I graduated, I started my business.

Where is your favourite place in the U.K.?

As you probably would have imagined, I have many. Elmley National Nature Reserve is certainly up there. You can stay in a Shepherds Hut situated on the 3,300 acre reserve, entirely surrounded by nature. I recall lying in bed with an enamel mug full of steaming coffee, with the whole side of the hut open (courtesy of some creative bi-fold engineering). The cold streamed in, pinching my nose and cheeks as I watched a stoat wandering about at the foot of the hut. A Kestrel hovered overhead in perfect sight. Though I had binocs, you didnt need them, you were that close. It was surreal, laying in a duvet but being entirely immersed in nature. And it was so quiet! The reserve has visitors of Lapwing, Curlew and Short-eared owls to name but a few; its simply a birders heaven.

Whats the most astonishing wildlife encounter youve had in the U.K.?

Through my work as a taxidermist, Ive had the privilege of working on many special and exotic specimens but nothing as historic as a tiny Least Bittern which was sent down to me from Shetland. This bird made national news, being the first ever recorded bird of its type in Britain. Birders from Shetland and beyond rushed to try and capture a glimpse of this record arrival. Exhausted and emaciated from its trans-Atlantic crossing, sadly the bird died overnight. When taken into care it was found to weigh only 50gms, as opposed to its normal (for the species) weight of 85gms. Being asked to preserve this bird was a historic moment in my career.

Do you have a favourite species?

Im a birder through and through, so its birds all the way. Tiny, brightly coloured birds just make me smile. Here in the U.K. I love seeing Goldfinch. Theyre little moments of magic at the feeder. More worldwide, I swoon over the likes of Gouldian finches, Manakins and Tanagers, though Im yet to see them in the wild.

Whats your one piece of advice for people getting into wildlife watching?

Just to look and to listen. Enjoying nature is for everyone. You do not need to know about birds to enjoy birding, or visit an exotic place to discover wildlife. Nature is on our doorsteps and all we have to do is take time to notice it. Some of my best discoveries are the ones made looking up stood on a busy pavement in central London, or out of a train window when travelling.

What are your top three tips for getting into birdwatching?

  1. Familiarise yourself with birds that might be in your area, so you can easily recognise them when they fly by. This will also help you to build confidence. You can use an identification app, a bird book or just good old Google.
  2. Get outside if you can. Though birding is great from the window, getting out into a park, woodland or nature reserve will allow you more diversity with your sightings and will teach you about birds that are found in different habitats.
  3. Listen. Very often you hear birds before you see them, or without seeing them at all. Noticing different calls and sounds adds to the natural landscape and invokes wonder and curiosity. Dont you want to see the bird that makes that squawking sound that wakes you up at 6am? Or match a creature to the beautiful melodic song sung at dusk? Me to.

 

On the 27th of April, join the Leica Akademie UK and conservationist Elle Kaye on this exciting urban nature walk in central London, starting from the Leica Store in Mayfair. Using Leicas peerless optics, and exploring a blend of urban and green spaces, lets go in search of the wildlife that calls it home.

Learn more here

Keep up to date with Elle over on her Instagram

Products in use

Binoculars

Elle uses the Leica Trinovid 8X32 HD. She says:

“I am totally in love with my Trinovids. Going from a hobbyist’s low-res lens to a Leica lens has totally changed my perception during birding. The clarity is incredible and outshines any binoculars I’ve used before. I love that they’re lightweight and compact, but feel solid and sturdy in the hand; great for sticking into my handbag in case I get the chance for a little side the road or high street birding!”

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