A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perches on a reed as she watches me. I ventured too near her offspring and soon experienced the full wrath of her protective onslaught.
You will pardon my utter lack of creativity of late. Posting photographs has been the only outlet I was capable of indulging in…and perhaps still am, at least for a bit longer.
I’m still recovering from the double-whammy head cold and sinus infection that plagued me for two weeks already. To say I’ve been abused and assaulted would be to understate matters in epic proportions.
I wee bit of a fever two weeks ago, along with a bit of congestion, signaled the onset of some torment. It went downhill from there.
A winter fiend attacked me, you see, one bent on the destruction of all fun, all joy, all comfort.
Then a few days later the horror exploded by orders of magnitude.
What started out as a cold rapidly turned into an upper respiratory infection. Both at once is not something I would recommend even to my worst enemies (if I had any).
Now almost two weeks later, I finally am recovering, antibiotics coursing through my veins and lots of fluids filling my tummy.
My voice has returned. My sinuses feel less like a war zone. The cough has subsided. The fever crept away in the night and failed to return. Aches and pains subsided to their normal you’re-almost-40-and-you-work-too-much-anyway levels. Thick mental fog slowly gives way.
All in all, things are looking up.
But I’m not well yet and am not taking any chances.
So despite how much I hate to be mundane, you can expect little change in posting habits at least for the next several days as I continue focusing on rest and recovery. What requires more than cursory intellect will have to wait for another day.
Mary and I discussed in the comments once how sometimes we have to lie on the ground to get the kind of photograph we want. Whether it be flowers or lizards or something else entirely, a great deal can be said for a prostrate approach.
Milling about on two legs and taking pictures of anything that seems worthwhile is a practice requiring little forethought. Although I hardly think myself an artist, I have discovered that looking at things from a point of view contrary to our own lends itself to results that stand out from the pack. Not only does such imagery offer something more appealing than the subject alone, but it also seems more natural, as though we could sneak in and watch the world unfold without interfering with it.
Another piece of the puzzle is stability. When shooting hand-held, stabilizing the camera means putting as much foundation beneath it as is possible. Snapping pictures during a walk is one thing; having time to really focus on the subject is something else entirely. Lying on the ground means I’m not wobbling on tired legs, not shifting my weight back and forth, not swaying in the wind.
Photographing wildlife demands that we become as small as possible. The smaller we appear to creatures great and small, the less of a threat we seem to be. That means we can get closer or, as my experience has shown, that wildlife is willing to get closer to us. Much closer in some cases. Being relatively tiny and using small, slow movements has afforded me not just the opportunity to snap some presentable images, but it’s also given me the chance to enjoy many close encounters that can only be described as magical.
But perspective leaps to mind as the most important factor, at least in my case. A great deal of nature photography oozes from a standing position, a view always looking down on the subject in a way that diminishes it, reduces its impact, hides the intricacies of its presentation. This approach works fine for those spur-of-the-moment images captured when some fantastical creature is fleeting by without interest in stopping to pose. But when the opportunity arises, I think the best results come from looking at things from their own level.
So with all that in mind, I want to share some experiences from an autumn walk not too long ago. All of these capture nature from ground level.
These American coots (Fulica americana) gathered on the bank, some preening, some standing about looking bored, and others grabbing a quick bite to eat from what few morsels could be found in the dormant grass. A few times they looked at me with curiosity, but mostly they ignored me.
Despite its highly unusual coloration, this beautiful rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia) stayed with the dule as the entire group had breakfast and tried to avoid the rather unruly grackles. In fact, the doves were so comfortable with my presence that, even standing, they walked right up to me, one of them even daring to walk across my foot. This one especially caught my eye, however, for I had never before seen one with plumage like this. Although rock doves often display a wide range of colors and patterns, most demonstrate the classic form.
And speaking of a more classic rock dove, this one walked right up to the camera at one point—so close that I couldn’t take a picture without switching to macro mode. The charcoal color it shows usually comes through as a lighter gray in most of its kind, yet this morph is far more common than the (IMHO) one-of-a-kind bird in the previous photo.
A world full of stars held high atop a thin arm. The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has a bad reputation as the scourge of gardeners and groundskeepers around the globe. Nevertheless, I think both the golden flower and the feathery seed head offer more than weeds; their beauty, in my mind, is unquestionable, and they also represent the single most recognizable set of memories stretching right through my childhood. Who doesn’t remember holding one of these and blowing on it just to watch the seeds take flight? What a simple act, sure, but I bet a right of passage for most kids.
Lying on the pier in Sunset Bay at White Rock Lake, I held the camera down near the water’s surface hoping I could somehow grab a bit of the magic happening all over the lake, from pelicans and cormorants to ducks and gulls. That didn’t work out very well due to the wind blowing my hands about and the choppy waves threatening to splash water on the camera. Yet as as I tried, this male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) landed nearby and screamed. A stone’s throw from where I was, he bellowed time and again, often doing so as he looked right at me. Perhaps I was in his favorite spot.
(And check out the flattop on that bird! It gives him an almost Frankenstein look, at least from that angle.)
I’ve yet to identify this tiny flower, but it and its kith and kin permeated every step I took. So short that most stems held their flowers below the dry grass and so small that a single bloom disappeared completely beneath my fingertip, only in their vast numbers did they become apparent. The ground shimmered as sunlight danced across their varied hues. Some were brilliant white and others were varying shades from lavender to cyan.
My adoration for mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) is second only to that for the red-winged blackbird. The soulful voice of these birds always stops me cold. It’s the sweetest lamentation one can ever hear. When I found several wandering beneath a canopy of trees as they rounded up something for breakfast, I had to stop and enjoy their company. Several of them came quite near (within an arm’s length). The blue jays were more skittish than these stunning creatures.
“Pardon me, sir, but have you seen any acorns?” Well, that’s what I thought this female fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) was asking when she stopped right in front of me, sat up, crossed her hands in a fretted manner, and looked right at me. Realizing as a prey animal that squirrels see best to the sides and not in front of them, I knew she was watching me as I lay there snapping a few pictures of her. Eventually she went on with her business, and so did I.
Larenti giving me the “I’m trying to sleep here” look as I photograph him from across the room.
Ever had the wrong camera for the job? Ever taken aim and snapped a photo of something so far away that you’re convinced it’s just a leaf blowing in the wind? Ever taken pictures out of the moonroof of your car while speeding along a busy boulevard?
Truth be told, many times I’ve attempted to capture an image that I knew ahead of time was well outside the scope of my abilities, the power of the camera, and the convenience of the circumstances.
But I never let any of that stop me from trying.
A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea). While visiting Lake Tawakoni more than a year ago to see the giant spider web that spanned acre after acre of the shoreline, I chanced upon a small bay thriving with wildlife. I regrettably had only my previous camera with me, a Canon PowerShot S50, and it simply had none of the range or power I needed for such a vast and beautiful place. Yet I felt a tinge of excitement when I reviewed the images later and found it had memorialized this child as it stood preening in the morning sun. The bird had been so far away from me that I couldn’t tell what it was—other than being a large bird, I mean; I was therefore pleased to no end to find that small camera had been able to see what I myself scarcely recognized from across the water.
A male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis). Mom provides several nesting spots for birds around the family farm, and one species that makes it their home every year is the eastern bluebird. Although we had seen the mated pair busily flitting about the main yard as they tended to their family duties, I had not been able to take a photo as we ourselves were busy with hour own duties. Standing at the far end of one of the pastures downhill from the house, I happened to see a shadow dancing at the very top of a tree on the far side of the farm. I decided to attempt a photograph even thought I was at a tremendous disadvantage.
A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis). The males of this species are gregarious, yet the females always seem to be aloof…even a tad disinterested. I admit once they’re mated they stay with their male counterparts, but as a group waiting to find a man, the females keep to themselves and stay well out of sight. Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise to find this lone female trailing a group of males well out in the center of White Rock Lake. I ran around Sunset Bay to find a higher vantage closer to their location, then I took a few pictures despite knowing she was too far away to see clearly.
A female spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia). After arriving at the Bathhouse Cultural Center where I would begin my walk, I sat atop a picnic table far from the water’s edge as I collected my things, put filters on the camera, and packed spare batteries and the like in the tripod bag. American coots flying by drew my attention to the lake where I saw this gal bobbing along the concrete steps in the old swimming area. She wasted no time as she hurried along, so I wasted no time in taking aim and snapping a photo. As unprepared as I was, and despite my disadvantaged location well away from her position, I was happy I didn’t wait longer than I did: she vanished right after I pressed the button, flitting across the water and arcing quickly through the air out of sight.
A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis). Driving along sans a care in the world save surviving Dallas’s horrific traffic, I do my best to remain aware of the nature that thrives even in this concrete jungle. I’ve seen American kestrels perched atop light poles, massive hawks circling right above the road, armadillos sauntering along as though they own the place, and all manner of flora and fauna just hoping someone will notice them, appreciate them. And so it was with this bird. Resting on a wire hanging above the road, my quick approach meant I didn’t recognize it and wouldn’t be around long enough to do so. I therefore opened the moonroof and held the camera out above the car as I sped along beneath it. I didn’t zoom in since that would have made it impossible to take a picture or drive, or both. What resulted was a wide-angle shot that hid this beautiful little spot of feathers off in one corner of a very large, very blank image.
An eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Because one good kingbird deserves another. No matter how often I visit White Rock Lake and walk the miles of shoreline, I never fail to see a new flower, snake, bird, or other bit of nature. It’s not that I never noticed before; it’s just that this large expanse offers refuge to so many species that one can never see them all (and that doesn’t include migrants, some of whom are extremely rare in this area). Well downhill of a massive field of wildflowers and grasses, I saw a red-winged blackbird perched on a wire and decided to try for a shot. I had to face into the sun to do it, so I knelt down behind some brush to take advantage of the paltry shade it offered. Only then did my vision clear enough for me to see this kingbird resting far uphill from me in a spot where the plants behind it gave some shade.