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.