This Is For The Birds

This Is For The Birds

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I have, all my life, been fascinated by birds. I’ve kept them, bred them, rescued them, and recently settled for just sitting out food for them. In the spring of 2010, I borrowed a family member’s camera to take pictures of birds that came to my back patio to feed. At the time, I did not know that I would be still doing it over two and a half years later, did not know I would get so involved with bird photography, did not know that it would become somewhat of an obsession.

Two and a half years can be a long time in that regard; however, for a man over fifty, picking up a camera for the first time and trying to figure out how to produce quality photographs, two and a half years leaves me still wet behind the ears.

Nonetheless, starting from near total ignorance, I have, of course, learned a lot about photography, bird photography, and even more about birds since that spring of 2010. I’ve learned about cameras, lenses, sun-to-subject angles, what kind of shoes to wear in dew-soaked grass, and even how to somewhat ward off chiggers.

I’ve also learned that, when it comes to photographing birds, it’s difficult to get them to pose, be still, and say cheese in the location where conditions are ideal. Thus, I have adopted the strategy of just taking the shot. Unlike as in the old days of film, a wasted digital frame costs nothing but the energy it takes to delete it. Consequently, I frequently end up with beautiful shots of empty branches of birds gone by, horrid blurs of birds going by, grainy distant shots, and colorless silhouettes. For most such bad outcomes, the delete key is applied with little or no pain or regret.

Having adopted the just-take-the-shot strategy, I accept the facts that I will still sometimes be too late or too far, and that some digital images just can’t be saved. Pain and regret does, however, come into play when I miss or get a bad image of a rare sighting.

Concerning painful misses of rare sightings, for me, there are three types of misses.

First there’s the total miss of a rare sighting. These types of misses can happen for many reasons. Not having a camera at the ready being the most common reason. A total miss can also occur when the bird, that seemed to be there when I clicked, doesn’t show up in the picture. In those cases, I know it instantly. I experience real and deep pain and regret for short while, but the intensity of those feelings soon decrease to mere vestiges. The miss is never forgotten, but the pain, more so than the regret, soon vanishes not unlike the bird that didn’t show up in the frame. I remember a Great Blue Heron flying majestically before a stand of trees, but I’ll spare you those details.

Another type of miss occurs when I get a good picture of only part of the bird or miss parts of it necessary for a quality photograph. If I only get one image of a rare sighting, and it turns out like the image below, the pain and regret will come and go as long I can’t bear to delete the file into non-existence.

This image of a Red-shouldered Hawk was the last of about twenty shots, so this miss doesn’t bother me so much. Had this image been the only one I managed to get, though, it would haunt me.

Then there’s the type of miss that occurs when I get a blurry bird. In the case of a rare sighting, that pain and regret promises to linger, has a substance insomuch as I will always be able to see what could have been. In an effort to assuage that pain and regret, like a doctor feverishly trying to save a dying or flat-lined patient, I pull out my editing tools and attempt the often times impossible.

Below are photographs of three birds that represented a first and only sighting and digital capture at the time they were taken. For two of them, that still holds true: the Golden-crowned Kinglet and the Double-crested Cormorant. All three images came out in a condition of poor quality, and had they been images of a species more common to my area, I would have deleted them immediately. They aren’t, however, so I tried my best to save them.

This Golden-crowned Kinglet appeared in the tree outside my bedroom window. It was 5:20PM on January the 8th, 2011, and very near dark.

I spotted this Yellow-billed Cuckoo in a small tree overshadowed by many larger trees. It was 1:43PM on July 10th, 2011, the sun was straight up in the sky, and the overshadowing trees were in full foliage.

I spotted this Double-crested Cormorant as soon as I arrived at Long Run Park on the morning of November 12th, 2011. It was 8:13AM, I was at least three hundred feet away from it, and the sun was rising pretty much on the other side of it. In fact, the only way I was able to identify it was by how low it swims in the water.

As one can detect, I have great external excuses for the above three near tragedies, but sometimes there just isn’t one. Such would be the case with the image below.

The Tufted Titmouse is fairly common in my area, but this shot got messed up due my own jittery excitement and fear of not getting the shot off in time. This out-of-focus image was captured on September 25th, 2010, at Jefferson County Memorial Forest. It was the first photograph I ever tried to save with editing tools, the photograph that motivated me to seek out and learn how to use editing tools. It’s good, it’s bad, and it’s ugly, but it’s not deleted.

In closing, I leave you with three photographs that turned good and bad, but not ugly.

I just took the shots.

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