As my wife and I are planning a move and have crisscrossed the state of Virginia, now, several times, I’ve spent very little time lately thinking about the blog and considering what to write next. Instead, I’ve been spending my time considering things like lot size and square footage. So this will be an abbreviated version. We could call it “Blog, Interrupted” or something like that.
Since this is a bird blog, what better way to begin than with a brief tribute to a famous bird puppeteer. Rest in peace, Caroll Spinney, the voice of Sesame Street’s Big Bird (and my personal favorite: Oscar the Grouch).
Mr. Spinney was a talent, and he won’t soon be forgotten. Même s’il a disparu, il restera dans nos mémoires.
A Bird Story
Let me follow that up by sharing a bird story. “The Bird’s Visit,” a little gem written by New York City-based author, Rachel Mankowitz, revolves around an interloping House Sparrow. It opens with the following words, which gently draw the reader in: “During the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the Days of Awe) a bird came to visit my apartment.” Now, I hope you were drawn in and will find time to read it.
The bird below isn’t a House Sparrow, but it is a close relative, a Song Sparrow. I captured it as it fed during a recent photo shoot in a Chesapeake, VA city park. Song Sparrows, like House Sparrows, like Canada Geese, are everywhere.
Here’s another bird I photographed in the same park a few days earlier. I didn’t quite get the full eye or the catchlight, but nonetheless, I like the gesture, the sense of movement, the ruffled feathers, and the creamy background. And get a load of that tail!
Now if I may, let me amend my statement above. Song Sparrows, like House Sparrows, like Canada Geese, like Northern Mockingbirds, are everywhere.
We Love Our Birds
Gosh, we love our “little brown jobs,” our ubiquitous geese, our mockers, our birds, don’t we? Whenever and wherever I encounter birds and watch them—and this is especially true in the winter when “all signs of visible life drop away”—I feel a kinship and am comforted by the presence of these fellow travelers. If you read Rachel’s story, you’ll learn she feels the same way. Consider her reflections after her little bird friend had gone: “She made me feel special, just by being there. She made me feel chosen.”
A Human Story
Speaking of travelers, I’m reminded now of another story, a story about an unusual human traveler.
I’m captivated by people and the things they do. I was at Lakeside Park in Chesapeake recently on a chilly Saturday morning. I was busy photographing a young Great Blue Heron on the bank. Note the gray look, dark crown, and subadult feathers.
As I was angling to get some good photos of the “GBH,” something out of the ordinary caught my eye. I spotted a man riding a unicycle across the street from the park. Not only was he riding, but he was gesticulating and appeared to be singing. He was also carrying fishing gear. The words: “photo op, photo op” rang out in my head. So, as smoothly as I could and without alarming the heron, I quickly reoriented my gear and did my best to get some photos of him, too. One out of twelve—my usual ratio—came out pretty well.
Here’s another photo that came out pretty well. You’ll recall that I mentioned the great British film, Kes, at the end of “More Thoughts on Birds and Bird Photography.” I wrote there that it was a must-see film about a troubled boy who found purpose and whose life was transformed when he discovered and began to train a Common Kestrel he affectionately named “Kes.” Well, as luck (and a measure of ability and preparedness) would have it, I just captured this American Kestrel eating a beetle atop a Money Point, Chesapeake, VA utility pole. What a handsome bird. I immediately thought of the film and young Billy’s Kes. Thank goodness for long lenses that make you feel as if you were right there.
And This Just In
Folks sometimes ask me why I do this, and isn’t it hard putting these blogs together every couple of weeks? I respond in many ways: “It’s a labor of love,” “I was a teacher and still love to teach,” “Writing the blogs allows me to create—and we were put on this planet to create,” and “Writing provides me the opportunity to continue to learn.” That last line makes me think of the late mystery novel writer, Jane Langton. Her son David included these words in his eulogy: “I think she wrote in order to allow herself to continue studying.” But, I sometimes respond playfully to the above question by saying that I put these blogs together and in the manner I do because “I can write and take pictures at the same time.”
Quip, Question, Quote
Readers seemed to enjoy the Abraham Joshua Heschel quote about living life in “radical amazement.” I shared it at the end of “Birds and Bird Photography, Cont’d.” Here’s a related quote from the Ken Kaminesky, the author of the August 2019 Outdoor Photographer article, “Safari Adventure.” He writes from a safari photographer tour leader’s perspective, but his words should speak to every nature photographer and every nature lover. “Every once in a while, please put your camera down and soak in the majesty of your environment. Take a deep breath, scan the horizon, look at the animals with your eyes, heart and soul, and realize how truly blessed you are to be living this incredible experience.” I choked up when I first read Ken’s words. And his words have the power to get to me still.