Bird brained stories!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Life lists, singing birds and photography

Though I've been a casual birder most of my life, it's only been in the past few years I've crossed over to the dark side, as mentioned in an earlier post. Part of what drew me over is an interest in avian photography. Basically, I enjoy hunting birds with my camera. I'm not particularly adept at this. My equipment set up doesn't meet the high standards needed for excellent bird photography, though the addition of a Sigma 80-400mm lens with optical stabilization should bump me up a notch in that regard. I also don't always have the patience to go out solely in pursuit of bird photos, either. Oh, I'll sit and wait for a long period of time if I spot a bird I want to shoot, but I do this in the context of hiking, biking and sometimes cross country skiing or canoeing. As a result, I'm more likely to capture an environmental shot, showing the bird in the context of its habitat, rather than close portrait studies. It's easier to do that type of photography and be somewhat satisfied with the results when one doesn't have several thousand dollars to spare on camera gear.

Still, hunting birds with one's camera lens requires a careful study of bird behavior and at a more basic level, bird identification. Identification helps, because knowing the bird gives a better understanding of what behaviors might be anticipated, and hopefully captured, on film or in pixels. Realizing this helped to nudge my basic love of birds to that next level.

Which brings me to my next area of concern--those lists we keep. Now, listing is a new behavior for me. My husband gave me a very nice birding record book that allows me to make notes on all my birding trips and keep track of what I've seen. As I read through various bird listservs, I see all kinds of lists. "Life list." "State list." "Year list." "Yard bird list." No matter what kind of list I say I have, I can tell you one thing---I'm way behind the pros for this year. On the mnbird list, someone commented the other day that he's at 160 for the state so far this year, and usually has hit 200 by now. Two hundred? I just tallied up mine for the tri-state region--living where I do, I'm one of those "birders without borders"--and I have a whopping 65 so far. That's counting the birds like starlings, rock doves and house sparrows, introduced species most birders don't even count!

Whatever shall I do? I guess I'm no serious threat to the likes of Sandy Komito, whose Big Year record will probably never be broken for North American birds, but I'm betting there are middle school kids with a better count than mine! I'm not too worried, however. I need only to remind myself why I got this serious in the first place, and celebrate the greater variety of bird species I've photographed. After leaving the prairie chicken blind the other morning, I spotted some of the singing Savannah sparrows on the seedheads left from last fall. Doing my best with what I had available--the 80-400mm had not arrived at this point in time--I fired off a few shots.

As I worked in Photoshop this afternoon to choose the best of these, I thought I'd have to do some seedhead removal, as there appeared to be a bit of reddish stuff right in his face. Imagine my delight when I tapped the mouse to activate the little magnifying glass and discovered it was not a seedhead, but the inside of this little guy's throat, wide open in song. One of my photographic goals for the year has been met! I captured a bird in full song.

Now of course, my next goal will be to capture him with full sharpness. Still, this is a nice start, don't you think?


  • congratulations on meeting a birding goal. love the pic and interesting blog. i was a biology teacher for a while. :)

    By Blogger doris, at 8:25 PM  

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