In my last blog, “Fieldcraft,” I described several situations where my being still and quiet in the field for over 5 minutes enabled me to get very close to—and get decent close-up photos of—a Red-tailed Hawk, a Carolina Wren, and a Song Sparrow. I also relayed Keith Freeburn’s story. Keith waited in one spot for over 2 hours, enabling him to capture a great close-up of a landing Bald Eagle.
I wasn’t considering writing any more about fieldcraft. But to my delight, the blog seemed to resonate with and speak to a number of readers. So I’ve decided to embark on “Part Two.” I’m doing it because Part One was widely read. But I’m also doing it because of an experience I just had in the field.
A few days ago, and fairly early, I decided to visit one of my “patches,” the Elizabeth River Project restoration site at Money Point in Chesapeake, VA. A formerly “polluted mess,” the site has been transformed into an oasis of green and critical habitat. To give you an idea, here’s a photo of a Seaside Sparrow, an indicator species, that spent time in the marsh in early spring.
Here, also, is a more common species generally found in the upland area.
When I arrived and got out of my truck, binoculars and photo gear in hand, I headed straight for a spot in the site that is often busy. And it was. One of the benefits of adopting a patch and regularly visiting it is you get to know it like the back of your hand. And you get to know where the action is.
Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere. They were flying and chasing and only resting on occasion. They seemed happy to be alive and to have found a place where they could either stop and refuel or spend the winter months. Either way, there was plenty of wax myrtle around and more than enough cover. Yellow-rumps breed as far north as northern Alaska and their winter range extends from southern Canada to Central America. Yes, some of them settle in that lagoon in Punta Cana.
Here’s one, taking a break from all that excited activity.
Here it is again, carefully maintaining its feathers.
The Benefits of Being Still
Now, I was only able to get the above 2 close-ups because I’d been still. I’d been rooted to the same spot, taking in everything around me, for well over 10 minutes. I’d become part of the environment and went unnoticed by the birds. Speaking of taking things in, there’s another benefit to being still in the field (or to just being in the field, period). It’s the health benefit/health effect of being immersed in nature. I like to think of it as being immersed in wonder.
After I’d stood in place for another 15-20 minutes and had taken many more photos (I was up to around 250), a bird larger and a bit more colorful than the Yellow-rumps appeared. I knew right away I had something special.
As I watched it and studied it, I was able to pin down its ID with relative ease. A member of the same species had been there before, and I’d seen another in Boston in 2017. It was an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a western stray and rare visitor.
Each year at the end of the breeding season, a few Ash-throated Flycatchers wander east and well outside their typical range. That range extends from the northwestern state of Washington in the U.S. to the country of Nicaragua. Fortunately, yet again, one of those few made its way here.
But nature’s flashes of magic are short-lived, and this one was no exception. In the same way the bird had appeared, it took off and was gone.
I only learned after I arrived home that the sighting was significant. It was the first time this fall that the species had shown up anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, and it was the second earliest fall appearance of the species in Virginia.
I also learned something else. I developed a deeper understanding of the importance of fieldcraft. Had I not been still and had I not blended into the surroundings at the restoration site that morning, I would have missed out on the Yellow-rump close-ups. I would also have missed out on the thrill of watching those winter visitors and observing their behavior. But more importantly, I would have missed out on seeing, let alone photographing, another and much rarer visitor: the Ash-throated Flycatcher.
And This Just In
Here’s an interesting and fun account of an Ash-throated Flycatcher that showed up along the shoreline of New York Harbor (of all places) back in 2011. You’ll enjoy reading it.
Quip, Question, Quote
“Slow down. By slowing down, you’ll take time to see all around you and notice so much more. As a young photographer, I used to run around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to capture every shot—and likely missing some great ones. The best photographers I know move slowly and with intention. Be more like a snail than a rabbit.”
Above is an excerpt from Jonathan Irish’s piece, “Dancing Around the Teacup” in the September 2020 issue of Outdoor Photographer. He may have been writing to photographers, but his message about slowing down is important for nature lovers and bird watchers, as well.
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