This is a complicated time. But one thing that keeps many of us centered and hopeful is the birds in our lives.
Beacons of Hope
John W. Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said as much in a recent message to members. He wrote that birds are “beacons of hope,” and that “this year they take on an even more powerful meaning.” He went on to say that “they enliven our days, brighten the trees, serenade in our backyards and city parks, and bestow us with so much joy and hope, all bundled together in feathers and lively personalities.” He also noted that they’re “unperturbed by the tremendous human ordeal around them.” Thoughtful words, there.
Speaking of backyard serenading and also harkening back to what I wrote in “Common Birds,” here’s a Carolina Chickadee singing its most typical primary song. I recorded it in our backyard in Chesapeake, Virginia on 3/14. The song was a welcome sign of spring. Listen closely and you’ll also hear a little chickadee-dee-dee call at the end. The bird’s common name derives from that often-heard call.
And here’s an admittedly accidental, yet very cool, long-exposure shot of the same bird. One reason the photo is cool, aside from its depiction of motion: you can just about count all the little bird’s flight feathers. In this instance, anyway, I’m happy I goofed.
A Perilous Time
This is also a perilous time. And that’s especially true for many birds. In my last blog, I mentioned the loss since 1970 of 3 billion birds—including many common birds—in the continental U.S. and Canada. According to the study in the journal, Science, and the article “Vanishing” in Living Bird, the disappearance of these birds is due in large part to “human-altered landscapes.”
If I may, let me sneak in a photo tip or two here. Of course, always get as low as possible, and shoot at eye level whenever you can. Shooting birds at eye level has a way of dignifying them. And birds, photo subjects or not, fully deserve that respect.
Also—and this is just my take—seek out green backgrounds. Green backgrounds have a wonderful way of highlighting subjects. The photo below might be a better example of that.
Now, I’m not crazy about this shot because of the detracting tree trunk in the middle. Always check those backgrounds! Nonetheless, it’s a decent example of a green background highlighting or illuminating a subject. Against the sky or a building or water or perhaps other colors or color combinations, this Osprey and the Song Sparrow above it might not have shown up as nicely. The Osprey, of course, is another welcome sign of spring.
A few more photo tips come to mind. Look for favorable light (always), and look for opportunities to tell stories. I keep both in mind whenever I go out to shoot. Photography, for me, is about chasing light and stories.
A Perilous Time for Terns
It’s also a perilous time for these small marvels of nature.
Field Naturalist, Researcher, Author, and fellow Cape Codder, Peter Trull, in his superb book and “photographic journey” about terns, Birds of Paradox: The Life of Terns, details some of the dangers to these birds: dangers from nature, from humans, from natural and unnatural predators, and yes—from human-altered landscapes.
One of the many landscapes that have been altered is an important seabird nesting site on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel’s South Island in SE Virginia. That site was paved over so the area could be used to stage equipment during the bridge-tunnel expansion project. Thankfully, and because of an outcry from birders and many others, new nesting sites for the 20,000-plus vulnerable seabirds that annually breed there are being prepared on nearby Rip Raps Island and barges. Reliable word has it that at least some of those preparations will be completed by April 1.
In the meantime, Royal Terns have started returning from their wintering grounds. Royal Terns are one of the seabird species that have nested on South Island since the 1980s. Here’s a banded and reportable one that I had the good fortune to capture just north of the island on 3/20.
I wonder where it will wind up and if it will successfully nest. Common Terns, Gull-billed Terns, and Sandwich Terns have also nested on South Island.
To give you an idea about tern nesting habitat, tern nests, and the birds’ needs in this area, here’s an intimate look at an adult Least Tern standing over its 2-egg clutch. Peter Trull provided both this and the above photo of the cover of his book (featuring a handsome pair of Roseate Terns).
Quip, Question, Quote
Some of you might have skipped over some of the link text above. I can’t really blame you. But if you’re guilty as charged, you missed these wonderful lines by biologist Eliot Brenowitz: “Birds all over the world participate in the great annual migration, finding their way over thousands of miles using a complex learned network of landmarks and star constellations. My fellow Seattleites become hopelessly lost trying to navigate around our tortuous city streets.” I laugh every time I read the lines but take seriously birds’ abilities.
And This Just In
Speaking of laughter, here’s our final photo. It’s a Laughing Gull in breeding plumage, another new arrival, and another example of a species that has bred on South island.
I love the photo because, to me, it captures not only the essence of the species and interesting behavior, but it captures humor, hope, and fortitude. And these are all things that we humans need now.