Bird-Related Grace

Before I begin, please note that some of what follows might be a little obscure unless you’re familiar with my previous 2 blog posts.

It’s funny, but as a writer, albeit a middling one, I feel something of an obligation to blog more often now, if it means providing my readers with a little more comfort and cheer. So let me begin with a story. Always a story. After all, “it’s all stories, really,” according to author, Terry Pratchett.

Laughing Gull with a shellfish
Laughing Gull

My Story

It was Saturday, 3/28. It wasn’t yet dawn, let alone sunrise. I was in the kitchen listening to early Sephardic music when other music I was beginning to hear pulled me away. I went to get my recorder and shotgun mic, slipped past our house cats and out the door, and stationed myself under the ornamental pear in the front yard of our Chesapeake, Virginia home. The choir of the “unperturbed,” consisting of a Carolina Wren, a Carolina Chickadee, and a Northern Cardinal, had taken its place in its branches and was singing.

I stood there for a moment being bathed in the sounds. But knowing only too well that “nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived,” I quickly aimed the mic up and began to record. It occurred to me that I’d finally located that cardinal! But I’d also found a measure of reassurance and hope. Though this spring felt unusual and different to me, for these 3 dawn choristers nothing had changed.

A Few Days Later

Then a few days later on a cool and gray morning, the last day of March, I paid a visit to my “patch,” Lakeside Park in Chesapeake. I was hoping for a chance to see and photograph a returning Louisiana Waterthrush, or if I were real lucky, a Green Heron. It took quite a bit of patient scanning, but I finally found a well-camouflaged “greenie” hunkered down on the lakeshore. Here it is after it had moved on to an open branch (and become a much better and easier photo target).

Green Heron
Green Heron

The Green Heron’s appearance, much like the Royal Tern’s appearance before it, also gave me a measure of reassurance and hope. Birds were returning as they had in years past, and nature’s cycle and life were continuing unabated.

A Photography Aside

Speaking as a photographer—I love these side views. But I love 3/4 views as well. Here’s a 3/4 view of a Western Palm Warbler undergoing a spring molt. Note the developing color on its crown and its eye. It almost looks as if it were in a terrarium, except that none of which I’m aware contain sections of chain link.

Western Palm Warbler molting
Western Palm Warbler

And here’s a 3/4 view of a male Osprey building a nest on a steel pile (of all places) in the Elizabeth River. Most of my birds-in-flight images are 3/4 view. This is also my first digital black-and-white photo. The lighting on that overcast morning was so unusually harsh that I knew it’d be a challenge to shoot color. So I changed my Picture Style setting from Standard to Monochrome.

Osprey landing in its nest

I love the above photo. Nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived and it’s fun and rewarding to try and capture them.

As I look at it, I think of another flash of magic: the White-throated Sparrow that glanced up as it fed. You’ll recall that I captured it as it visited our yard.

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

I believe that this photo and the story around it touched a nerve. Why? Because people are concerned about the loss of common birds. I also think it was the bird’s gaze—and the tilt of it’s head. It honestly does look as if it were asking for help.

A Proposition

If you’d like to help White-throated Sparrows and other common birds—the ones we so enjoy watching (and on occasion find in our homes)—I have a proposition. These birds really do face significant challenges.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

I contacted Vistaprint and asked them to print 50 thick cardstock, glossy front postcard-sized copies of the White-throated Sparrow photo above. I’ve also set up a “Please donate to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology” button at the bottom of the sidebar on the right. If you’ll make a small donation of nay amount to the Cornell Lab to help common birds like the White-throat and the Song Sparrow (Song Sparrow numbers are declining as well), I’ll send you one of those cards and forward every dime to the Lab.

And This Just In

If you skipped over the link text, “nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived,” you missed reading a great article entitled, “7 Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography.” So, here’s your second chance (without your having to scroll up).

I still find myself thinking about some of Eliot Brenowitz’s words. In his letter to the editor, Dr. Brenowitz referred to birds as “those little nimble musicians of the air.” He then described some of the challenges that birds face and overcome, including the challenge of migration, a feat they accomplish “with brains that may be no larger than a marble.”

Quip, Question, Quote

Thanks to Liz Pease for the title: “Bird-Related Grace.” These are words from the opening line of her recent email to the Massachusetts birding community. I also thank her for the use of these lines, which appeared toward the end of that email and will help us conclude: “It is incredibly comforting to me to know that nature is just going about its business as usual. I myself find such grace in these encounters with nature.”

Thank you for reading, and stay smart and stay safe.


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