Meet our friend Danny Miles, rockstar drummer and babe of Canadian alternative rock band July Talk. Danny took us on a walk through High Park, where we talked about his experience of being on tour for the past three years and how he recently started photographing birds and posting them to his Instagram with the hashtag #drummerswholovebirds, receiving an enthusiastic response from his fans.
We enter High Park near the zoo and ask Danny to show us his favourite birding spots. Along the way, he tells us about how his interest in photographing birds began.
“It kind of just started. When you’re on tour, you’re together with everyone constantly, 24/7. So I started going for walks. It started as a bit of a joke. I said to the band, ‘I’m going to get into birding now, so that when I’m sixty I’m going to be the best birder around!’ And then I realized ‘Oh, I actually really enjoy this.’ It’s relaxing - it’s exercise - and it’s learning something new.
“I would probably consider myself an urban birder, that’s mostly where I’m taking all of my photos, in cities all over the world. It gives me a chance to get out and get to know a place in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise. I get excited because there’s also a collecting aspect to it. I think, ‘This is a new photo of a bird, I don’t have this one yet!’ And I get excited to post it.”
We arrive at the spot where Danny took his very first bird photos - a small pond where some ducks are floating about. Danny gestures to them.
“I have a lot of people coming up to me saying, ‘I had no idea!’ Before, they would walk up to these wood ducks, thinking they are mallards because that is what everyone sees all the time. They would think that is all there is - just mallards, or robins, or sparrows. But if you look closely at all these birds, they’re different. They’re beautiful, and they’re cool to watch.
"The personalities of birds are different. It’s cool to see them. Like a killdeer, if you’re near its nest it will pretend that it broke its leg and limp away trying to get you to follow it - trying to get you away from its nest - it’s hilarious. If you watch them, they do interesting things that half the time are pretty funny.”
We ask Danny how he approaches birds and gets close enough to take their photos.
“It has a lot to do with being calm. Like a lot of animals, I think they sense if you’re a bit stressed out or aggressive. You need to let them do their thing. I like to stand there for a while, and often they’ll just come to you.”
As Danny says this, a female wood duck swims over to check us out. “I think that’s why I enjoy it, you just let go of your stresses and you appreciate it.”
“I get out and I get in there. I have a shitty camera with a shitty lens (just a little stock 75-300mm). Sometimes you see actual birding photographers out here and their lenses are 600mm long. They are so heavy that they can’t really move around. They’re stationary with a tripod, and that's just not what I’m interested in. I like running around through the forest and following birds.” Danny laughs mischievously when he says this. “I like getting out in the canoe and sneaking up on ducks.”
“I get a lot of people reaching out, saying they'll show me some cool birds. And I'm down for it. But it can be hard to do that with someone, especially if it's someone that you're not really comfortable with. You have to go out and be alone and be able to be quiet.
“There are days when I’ll start out and I’m listening to music, but it’s hard, you need to hear. You need to hear the birds and you have to learn the calls. I’ll constantly hear something and think, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ I have a book and it comes with a CD with a hundred tracks of bird calls. But for me, I learn better by experiencing it. So, I’ll go out and just try and listen closely to the calls, and find the birds and go home and read about it later. I don't usually bring my book out. I usually just take the photo and follow my curiosity and look it up later.”
“You know, my hobby (drumming) has become my full time job. We’ve pretty much toured straight for three years. Drumming is probably my favourite thing to do, although, the more popular our band gets, the more pressure there is at shows. It’s still fun, but it's a lot more professional then back when it was, ‘Let’s play a club and it doesn’t really matter if we screw up.’ I needed something else to do.
“Especially when you're on a long tour. I mean we all love each other like brothers and sisters - we’re all very close - but there are times when you can’t be around anyone that much. I think everyone in the band has their own thing that they do to remedy that. I enjoyed walking around, it relaxes me and now there is a creative, artistic side.”
Danny has a tattoo of an American condor on his left forearm. We ask him about the significance of this particular bird.
“They are the biggest bird in North America. They went extinct in 1987 - or almost extinct - there were only 20 left in the wild. They were going extinct because of humans and human behaviour. They are vultures, so they eat lead bullets from hunted animals and it poisons them. They took them into captivity and bred them in captivity, and they have just started releasing them back into the wild. So now there are something like 220 in the wild, and 400 in total. They’re the biggest bird in North America. They are big and need a lot of space. They live in places like the Grand Canyon, and the more space we take up, the less room they have to live. They’re a bit ugly, but I love their wing span.”
“As a little kid I used to draw a lot, and it’s funny because the two things I used to draw were music stuff - a lot of bands - and then I would draw birds of prey. I guess it’s just a little-boy fascination with them, they’re kind of bad-ass like action heroes. I think it’s just that little boy in me still.”