This Is For The Birds

This Is For The Birds

Sunday, September 30, 2012

To Denise Russell: ON CAGING BIRDS

“Unfortunately, because of their beauty, these small finches are captured from the wild by trappers in South Florida and smuggled to South America to become pets. This practice not only reduces their numbers, it skews the bird population when the trappers take only the showy adult males. Painted Buntings are currently listed as: Near threatened by the IUCN and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.”

As one who is guilty of having once caged birds as pets, my conscience compels me to address the issue of trapping, smuggling, and keeping them as pets.

Back in 1962, at the age of five, I came home to discover a new resident in our home. My grandmother had acquired a white parakeet. It was love at first sight for me. She told me that his name was Pretty Boy and that I could teach him to talk. I didn’t, for one second, believe that it could talk; however, I did spend countless hours watching it hop around in its tiny cage. I often begged my grandmother to let it out of its cage so I could watch it fly. She always denied my requests. Of course, I eventually took it upon myself to just open the cage door and watch. After seeing what it took to get Pretty Boy back in his cage, I decided I would never do that again.

In the mid-eighties, I discovered the pet store world of exotic finches, and became addicted to collecting pairs of so-called Australian finches: Masked Finches, Shaft-tail Grassfinches, Black-throated Finches, and  Chestnut-breasted Mannikins just to name a few.  I studied them, studied about them, and spent thousands of dollars and hours in collecting and maintaining them. I turned a spare bedroom of my home into what I called the birdroom. The birdroom contained about twenty relatively large cages. The wall-to-wall carpet was covered with wall-to-wall clear plastic matting, the walls were painted with washable satin paint, Vita-Lite full spectrum lighting was installed, and in the center of the birdroom sat a huge cage lined three quarters up in clear thick plastic. It contained the biggest “exotic finch” I ever acquired: a Dusky Lory.

 I felt great pride, joy, and satisfaction with my birdroom, felt I was doing a good thing by taking such well care of my birds. I maintained that menagerie for quite some time, but then, after being visited by a bird breeder, eventually settled on the breeding a single species: the Double-barred Bicheno Owl Finch. There was nothing like the sound of over a dozen Owl Finches greeting the opening of the blinds and the sudden morning sunlight with what I certainly interpreted as cheers.

As time passed, I soon realized that could not sell them because of the emotional attachment of having watched them go from egg to full feather. Finally, due to job relocation, I ended up giving them to the breeder who had gotten me started and had taught me so much.

Now, decades later, I somewhat—but not totally—regret my contribution to illegal bird trafficking, and although I didn’t personally bring them here from their native countries, I rather shamefully see my birdroom as just a little more than a well-kept bird prison.

I still have a lot of birds at my home, but they now come and go as they please. I especially love it when parents bring their new offspring to my feeders and when I see one of them splashing around in my bird bath on a hot summer day.

As far as bird trappers and smugglers are concerned, I wish I could make them stop endangering every bird species. At the same time, I wish these same trappers could be employed to good use. I wish we could capture and facilitate the breeding of endangered bird species to the point where they would no longer be even remotely endangered. I wish secure environments could be created to facilitate the proliferation of endangered bird species regardless of source of threat. I know that many species of birds will not breed in captivity; however, if humans can build a ski resort in the middle of the desert, why can’t humans build a Painted Bunting habitat in Florida. The question is really not a question, because I know the answer: money.

If I were King of the World, though, a bird’s life would be more coveted than money: sort of like the age-old reality of money being more coveted than human life.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.                                   ---Paul Laurence Dunbar

Sunday, September 16, 2012

FAVORITE PHOTOS: 120719 (0748-0755)

Following my perceived botched Great Blue Heron encounter, I resolved to see if I could find a preoccupied bird that didn't see my human presence or a trusting bird didn’t see my human presence as threatening.

Almost immediately, I heard a familiar sound, and pursued it. It wasn’t long before I came upon and saw the source… …or sources: Pileated Woodpeckers. There were three of them when I first spied them, but one of them immediately took off, left in a noisy exit.

Subsequently, I began to shoot, click away at the two of them who stayed before me. I instantly recognized one of them as a male, and began focusing on the red mustache. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I tried to get both of them by focusing on some point between them. After a minute of two, I realized their pattern of traversing up and down the tree. They would walk, climb, scale up the tree several feet while pecking at it, and then descend back down to the ground, only to start back up it again. They did this repeatedly.

One did it gracefully..,

…and the other flopped, dropped, stumbled, and flailed.

It would be a lie to even imply that I knew what was going on as I viewed the eight-minutes-long spectacle. All I was concentrating on was getting closer, getting them when they weren’t driving their heads toward the tree, getting clearer shots, getting both of them together, getting their eyes. In fact, for all I knew at the time, I was shooting two birds looking for or feasting upon something good to eat in that tree.

A father and son.

Here they are:

I thought I had been spotted by the one that left the other two, but, in hindsight, what I think I saw was a mother telling her mate to teach his son how to find food while she goes to eat breakfast in peace for the first time in two months.

Monday, September 10, 2012

FAVORITE PHOTOS: 120719 (prelude)

For me and my immediate family, the highlight of every summer is the extended family’s annual pilgrimage to Bailey’s Point, Kentucky, which is a camping area situated on a bank of Barren River Lake. (See the peninsula extending out from the south and east of the A, while west of the two lake islands.)  

This year, I and my immediate family arrived there on the 18th of July, and I was up and at it on the 19th by 0700 hours. The place is rather large, but there was a particular area I had long been planning to check out first. There was somebody I wanted to see, someone who had kind’a gotten away from me the year before. This guy:

The above image of a Great Blue Heron was my first somewhat of a capture on the first morning of last year’s stay at Lake Barren. I saw it finishing breakfast in the shallow water of a cove, but not before it saw me. By the time I got over the surprise and was able to focus, it was way high and far away. I went to look for it again first thing on each subsequent morning of the stay, but had no luck.

Over a year later, I was back at it. As I came around the stand of trees to view the cove, just like before, I watched it lift off. If you know anything about the Canon XS’s you know that they take a while to focus. Well, despite being ready for the surprise, I was nonetheless surprised; and by the time I had gotten myself and my camera focused, it had happened again. See:

The irony of getting almost identical misses two years in a row left me wondering whether I had been cursed or blessed.

I later saw the answer.

See the bird in the upper right corner? That was my sign.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Granted, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo made my day on the first of July, 2012, but there were a few more of my feathered friends who were there as well. There was a Blue Jay who basically demanded that I take his picture. My favorite goose in the whole wide world was there. There was a pain-in-the-neck male Orchard Oriole who kept me looking almost straight up for roughly ten minutes as he sang his little song from the tops of the highest trees. His wife was there, and she, too, was a pain in the neck. I really did have to look straight up to get her, although she did grant me a face-to-face visit along with a rather forward display of her backside. :) There were also a couple curious young Eastern Bluebirds who didn't seem bothered at all by my presence nor by my focus beam, and there was a Gray Catbird who seemed a quite taken aback by the fact that I had even laid eyes on it.

My top five quality photos:

In time line order, here are the twelve runners up:


Saturday, August 11, 2012


On the morning of July 1st, 2012, I, again, went birding at Long Run Park, and almost immediately got graced with a special gift from Mother Nature. Prior to this day, I had gotten only two images of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo: the most exotic bird I have ever seen roaming freely in the United States of America.

That would be these two immediately below.

These rather bad, but quite precious, images were captured at Long Run Park on July 10th, 2011, and I had been hoping to get better ones ever since. After going almost a year without seeing another one, I had gradually succumbed to the mindset that I would probably never ever see another one again; but, lo and behold, on July 1st, 2012, at 8:23AM, I saw a familiar silhouette. Suspicious, hopeful, optimistic, but not sure, I took a shot, although the sun was shining from the bird's other side.

This heavily edited photograph could have been it—another somewhat lost chance, another good bad photo, another good bad memory—but this was not it. At 8:28AM (five minutes later), after I had been a bit distracted by a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, after I had maneuvered myself into a position whereby I had put myself somewhat closer to being between the sun and where I had seen the silhouette, I got a clear view, a positive ID, and another shot..; ...and another, and another, and another. For approximately eight minutes, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo stayed high up in a tree, moving about within a small, limited area while melodically clicking away, sounding much like a Summer Tanager, while obviously refusing to give away, clearly refusing to reveal to me the delivery destination of that freshly caught, nutritious looking, leaf looking bug.

In the bird part of my brain, I knew I was keeping it from approaching its young, who I figured was located somewhere low to the ground and between me and it. (The bird was maybe sixty feet up, and I was at least fifty feet from the base of the tree.) Further, my instincts told me that my stalling subject was a female, because it has been my experience that males tend to be less cautious—while females tend to be tremendously cautious—about revealing the whereabouts of their nests and their young ones when feeding.

Be that as it may, however, at 8:31AM—three minutes into the shoot—I got, what I think, is my best quality shot of her.

I could be wrong, but I don't think so..: ...referring to the her part.

What follows are what I judge to be my next four best quality photographs of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo of 120701.

As far as zooming in and real close-ups go, I think the above capture was my best one.

I really like the above photograph because I managed to get her eye color and pupil.

In the above photograph, I didn't get her pretty eye, nor even her beautiful face, but I did get the bug's eye, and the entire image is perfectly focused. If one clicks on either the picture or the link, one can even see the fine threads of a spider's web in the upper third of the scene. I think that says a lot about the Canon SX40HS when considering that the bird was about sixty feet up and I was about fifty feet from the base of the tree.

For me, concerning the quality of the above photograph, the picture could have been a little sharper for my complete satisfaction, and especially so about the head and face. Insomuch as I was dealing with a sun and shade contrast, not to mention a moving subject, however, I nonetheless deem the picture quality to be pretty good. Moreover, the striking pose, that was captured in the exposure, is utterly, totally, absolutely priceless. Whenever examining this photograph, as I have done many times, over and over and again , three adjectives and a stubborn, unverifiable conviction immediately and consistently comes to my mind. Elegant, sleek, graceful, are the adjectives, and a female is the stubborn, unverifiable conviction.

Okay, enough with the mushy stuff. What follows are eight more photographs of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that I think are presentable.

Note the spider web.

Again, note the spider web.

Thank you, Mother Nature.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


On June 24th, 2012, I went back to Long Run Park for a second day in a row of birding. Although I managed to get some good images and was presented with a very pleasant and fortunate surprise, I was not able to get, what I would deem to be, any real quality photographs. Upon viewing the images of the day on my computer, it seemed that every one of them was a bit flawed, and most of those flaws could be attributed to a thick canopy of early summer leaves impeding the sunlight in varying degrees.

I learned early on that summer vegetation and foliage poses problems, creates obstacles when it comes to bird photography. It is so much easier to get well-lighted, unobstructed views of birds in November than it is in June; but November's birds aren't June's birds, and the challenge, the essence of bird photography is to take advantage of opportunities within environmental situations as they present themselves.

It was a clear, sunny day, but it was hot: really hot. The temperature was already in the low to mid eighties with sunrise, and rose to the low to mid nineties by noon. Thus, just as I frequently did during the day, the birds smartly took to the shade.

Consequently, the shadows wreaked such havoc on the would-be quality of so many of my results that I am quite reluctant to even use the term quality in referring to what I would normally display as my top five quality photographs of the day. Accordingly, what follows are the five pictures of the day that I simply like the best.


First of all, the spider webs and stuff hanging off his chin are my fault. This is the last of numerous pictures I took of this guy. Normally, he's not really afraid of me. He often walks the ground very close to me, foraging through the grass; and when I happen to get a little too close to him, he flies off to the lowest branch of a nearby tree. Just prior to capturing this image, I got really close to his preoccupied meanderings through the grass and made him fly through an area where neither he nor I would normally go. In fact, I got spider webs all over me too as my pursuit of him took me under the very low reaching branches of the tree in which he's perched.

I hope he forgives me.

Secondly, it took a lot of brightening up to get this picture to look as it does, so pay no attention to the nauseating background.


The above image of a Barn Swallow doesn't look that bad, but it, too, required a lot of work—in real time and during the editing process—to get it to look as good as it does. The bird was under a canopy of leaves and at the end of what seemed like a tunnel of foliage.


The above Tufted Titmouse just came down and started walking around on this picnic table which was adjacent to the one where I was sitting, taking a break in the shade. I very, very slowly raised my camera and squeezed off this pic. It, too, took a lot of brightening up to get it to look as it does.


The above pictured Green Heron was my aforementioned pleasant and fortunate surprise. I hadn't seen it since the tenth of June, and I wasn't expecting to see it again this year; but there it was, making all kinds of noise and making sure I saw it. I got six shots of it, and this one was the best. In fact, it turned out to be the best quality photograph of the day.

Were I displaying, my top five best quality photographs of the day, this one would be number one; however, I'm displaying my top five favorite captures of the day. Seeing the Green Heron and getting the above image was like a wonderful, unexpected gift given to me by Nature. Photographs one, two, and three, however, required a lot of effort that turned out rather successful. Moreover, how often does one get up five feet from a Red-winged Blackbird with spider webs stuck all over it, how often does one get up twenty feet from a Barn Swallow perched and preening on a limp in the shade, and how often does one have a Tufted Titmouse join them for a break in the shade at an adjacent picnic table?

And then, there's my friend below who decided to show me what it looks like when one sings with feeling. This capture should probably be number one, but as in American Idol, the judges sometimes get it wrong.


The four syllable song it was singing was similar to the sound track featured in this site, but his was much more bold and forceful.

So much for my five favorite pics of the day. What follows, in time line order, are the next one dozen pics that I found favorable.

Just to reiterate a phenomenon of the day, in getting all of the below displayed pictures, expect for the immediately below American Goldfinch (whose eyes cannot be clearly seen), I was dealing with birds in shadows, birds under thick foliage, birds in the shade.

The above pictured American Goldfinch was not in the shade. It was out in a wide open field, but I caught it from its dark side. That was just the kind of luck I was having that day.

I kept clicking and waiting for the above Red-winged Blackbird to come out of the shade and get into the sunlight. This was as good as it got. I feel that this photograph turned out pretty good. It required little editing, and I like the little lavender flower up near the left corner. However, the stark contrast between the sunlight and the shadow—as well as the out-of-focus near background—is a bit disconcerting to my eyes.

If I were reading his mind correctly, he was kindly telling me to leave him alone. I didn't: at least not for a few more minutes. Remember one and five of my favorites of the day?

I hope he forgives me.