Haphazard photos taken with the assumption that what lurked at the other end of the lens was something more common than what was discovered in the image later. Running down a hill snapping picture after picture of something flitting about the shore so far away that I felt convinced it would be better displayed in my memories than in the camera. A flippant photograph, one taken over my shoulder with nary a thought.
I can’t help but think I chance upon a great many of the images shared here, and not by skill or preparation as much as luck.
Which brings us to the end of our story…
A female yellow-rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata). I saw across the floodplain in a barren tree some tiny bit of movement as I walked through dry grass. Winter had long taken hold of the world. That meant no foliage protected whatever life busied itself in the nearby woodlands. Still trying to gain comfort with my new camera at the time, I held it up and clicked a few images of what I believed to be a mockingbird. Thankfully the lens knew better than I and helped clear up the confusion by seeing more clearly than I did.
A male yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). An infrequent visitor to White Rock Lake, I immediately recognized it the moment I topped the hill at Winfrey Point. Clouds had long obscured the world when a flash of gold wrapped in the deepest black turned my attention from the drab surroundings. Far ahead of me down at the shore danced this marvelous creature. Watching it flit from spot to spot, I ran headlong, nearly tumbling down the hill several times, and I snapped photo after photo along the way. The bird vanished long before I approached its location.
A spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in non-breeding plumage. A marvelous aspect of the lake comes from how localized wildlife can be. Looking for buffleheads? You won’t find them in Sunset Bay. Looking for American white pelicans? You’ll find them mostly in Sunset Bay. The whole lake seems apportioned by species with only a select group claiming the entire refuge. So as I rounded the north shore and spied a pier overflowing with gulls and cormorants, this tiny bird dashing along the edge drew my attention more than the raucous giants who very much dwarfed it.
An eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). One thing I learned quickly when I started photographing wildlife is this: No matter what creature you hope to capture in an image, you have better luck if they don’t think you’re looking at them. As large mammals with forward-facing eyes, we automatically come across as predators. Other animals recognize that and know when those eyes have settled upon their location. Pretending not to notice has often given me a better opportunity to take a picture or two than has stopping and looking directly at the subject. So it was with this phoebe who dashed from tree to tree each time I stopped and took aim. So instead of trying intently, I tried flippantly: Walking by and quickly pressing the button a time or two as I held the camera over my shoulder.
A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus). One disadvantage of visiting the family farm stems from the amount of territory it covers. The house sits atop a hill with pastures and woodlands stretching in all directions. While standing in the main yard helping my parents tend to the rabbits, a bit of movement far off in the distance caught my eye. Something loud flew into view and perched atop a fence. Without thinking, I turned, faced into the sun, zoomed in all the way despite knowing I was ill prepared for such an endeavor, and I pulled the trigger—photographically speaking. Much to my surprise, I captured this rather poor image of a bird that rarely stands still.
(Honestly, without time to change lenses or get closer, I took four pictures, all the while telling myself I’d get nothing for the effort. That even one of them showed the actual subject with any clarity brought a great deal of cheer to my heart!)
A juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii). Lake Tawakoni impressed me beyond measure. The giant spider web overwhelmed me with its vast reach and unexpected majesty, yet every direction I turned offered one more surprise…and one more challenge for my little PowerShot S50. When this accipiter landed in a tree some distance from me, its tail resting comfortably on a branch behind it as the predator surveyed the morning landscape, I scarcely thought I would be able to see it in any of the photos I took. Small and compact, the camera I had with me offered few answers to the challenges I put before it. In this case, however, it at least let me know it tried.
This poor unidentified bird left me wanting (see update at bottom of post). Never having seen its face, let alone a profile shot that might offer a bit more of its plumage for comparison, it landed only once in a small stream hidden by brush and branches. Its song made me turn and look; the click of the camera made it disappear into the sunrise.
A female northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). The rat-tat-tat of pecking above my head called my attention to an otherwise silent visitor. She clamored along the tree’s bark high in the treetop, and the faint echo of her efforts provided the only evidence of the encounter. I backed away snapping photo after photo under less than ideal circumstances: the sun had not yet risen above the treeline; a great number of bare branches stood between me and her position; and her color made her all but invisible in such dim light and at such a great distance. The only thing I could focus on was the spot of red on the back of her neck.
A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). I followed this chap from Garland Road to Sunset Bay (quite a distance for those unfamiliar with White Rock Lake). He stayed well ahead of me, and each time I got close and tried to take a photo, he darted further ahead—but always stayed close enough that I could see him. Native to this area, I never doubted his identity; I did, however, doubt that I would get a respectable image of him. This is another case of pretending not to notice the very thing I wanted to photograph. Only when I leisurely walked by as though he didn’t exist was I able to surreptitiously aim the camera at him and snap a few images.
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The purpose of this series has been manifold:
- To show that one need not have the greatest equipment available in order to capture a memory. None of these photographs will be published, but each of them means a great deal to me.
- Every picture doesn’t have to be a work of art, let alone something worthy of inclusion in a nature guide (or other publication). I’ve been published because of my photography, yet the image that started me down that path was taken with a weak and simple point-and-shoot camera, and it was an image taken only because I wanted to capture a beautiful thing that Mom pointed out to me.
- Photography is a personal endeavor. What I show here has nothing whatsoever to do with wanting to share with the world. It has everything to do with wanting to experience the world, and once in a while finding that effort resulted in a moment others might enjoy.
- I’ve long advocated that a camera at the ready is the most meaningful tool anyone can have, for it enables us to memorialize life as it happens. A small red bird. A waterfall casting a rainbow upon the day. A simple confluence of stars and planets that won’t be seen again for a hundred years. The list goes on. Memories are personal and fleeting; photographs can be forever and immemorial.
[Update] I have since identified that bird as an American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).