Where have you been hiding?

Picture restoration from backups.  Half a terabyte of data.  Nearly 72,000 images.  What a tedious, mind-numbing exercise in busywork.

The excitement of downloading and processing photographs explodes all over me when the camera holds new discoveries, new moments captured in digital form.  But this time around?  It’s been less and less like Christmas and more like drowning under the weight of my own pictorial flood.

Nevertheless—and even when it’s become so difficult to focus that I fear I might miss something important when opening the next file—many times I’ve stared unblinking at the screen as I asked the scene in front of me, “Where have you been hiding?”

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009810)

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) gave me the chase of a lifetime.  Her afternoon activities focused entirely on hunting around Winfrey Point.  Each time she settled, I would move in carefully, quietly, nonchalantly as though not paying attention to her.  Not that she was fooled, mind you, and not that she cared.  Her concerns were about filling her belly, not posing for or avoiding my camera lens.  Mostly what I walked away with were images of empty branches, clear sky, blurs escaping at the edge of the photo that might as well be my finger in front of the lens.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2009_02_15_009596)

This male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) was only slightly less active when I found him and a friend hunting in the field between the Bath House Cultural Center and what was once the Dreyfuss Club.  It struck me as somewhat odd that two males shared the same territory, yet I felt certain there was a story hidden there that only they knew.  Besides, I had no doubt the female would not share her banquet with them and the males would have to make do with sloppy seconds.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) with a large seed in its beak (2008_12_28_003881)

When I first spied this tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), I could see it had something in its beak.  I moved closer hoping to get a photo.  Titmice are active creatures, yammering and chattering while bouncing from branch to branch, joining in the mobbing when a threat moves too close, and otherwise being boisterous fun to watch—assuming they sit still long enough.  So when this one paused briefly in perfect profile, I aimed and fired the shutter as quickly as I could.  Only later when I processed the image did I realize the seed it carried was a whole meal for a bird that small.

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) climbing the side of a tree (2008_12_28_004024)

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  It’s not just an insult anymore.  In truth, I’m not sure why the name has such a negative connotation.  These birds are aggressive, vigorously defending their territory from other birds.  This one spent the afternoon feeding from the many holes it had drilled in various trees (which are visible in this photo), all the while chasing away chickadees and titmice and woodpeckers, along with various other avian visitors who came along.

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) perched in a tree (2009_07_18_026997)

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) sang and sang and sang from deep within the woods.  I knew it was there but couldn’t see it, so I waited.  And waited.  Then waited some more.  Its voice carried throughout the confluence, sometimes coming nearer and sometimes moving further away.  I finally gave up on seeing it and turned to leave.  Suddenly its voice filled the air around me.  When I looked, it had taken up position across the creek from me.  The moment lasted about ten seconds; nevertheless, I was thankful for it.

A neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) sleeping at White Rock Lake (2009_07_20_027453)

This sleeping neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) perched atop one of the pillars at the water theater during a hot summer evening.  I had to move well north of its position to get the sun out of the lens—and out of my eyes!—but found the effort worthwhile upon discovering this wasn’t one of our resident double-crested cormorants.  The neotropics aren’t unheard of here; they’re just rarely seen and often overshadowed by their more prolific cousins.

A yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus) perched in a tree (2009_07_19_027436)

If you live anywhere in their territory, you’ve no doubt heard a yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus).  Their voices are familiar and distinctive, their songs identifiable with ease.  But even if you’ve heard one, you might never have seen one.  These birds spend much of their time lurking about in thick foliage searching for insects and fruit.  It’s not that they’re secretive; this one didn’t mind me one bit as I followed it for almost half an hour.  It’s just that their hunting keeps them in the shadows, behind cover, hidden within the concealing arms of plants that harbor the goodies they like to eat.  I fought with ticks and a few snakes to locate a position where I had a clear shot of this one.

[all images are from White Rock Lake]

4 thoughts on “Where have you been hiding?”

  1. Beautiful shots. I am envious that you have the will power to go through so many files. My collection is much smaller, but I put off sorting through it time and time again.

    A little nature note: Once my husband observed a yellow-billed cuckoo catch, bash to death, and eat a green treefrog. Perhaps it needed a change of pace from the usual caterpillar diet…

  2. Thank you both for your kind compliments!

    Swampy: Wow! I’ve read they sometimes eat frogs and lizards, but I’ve never seen that behavior (I’ve only seen them eating insects and fruit). It’s very cool that your husband witnessed it. I’m guessing from your recent photos, though, that the frog population isn’t in danger from the cuckoo onslaught.

  3. Jason, your photos are such a treat. I’ve only glimpsed a Yellow-bellies Sapsucker a few times, and only for a second or two. What a great capture of such neat woodpecker. I can totally identify with your experience in photographing the Great Crested Flycatcher. Mine was much the same – and the watching and waiting was sure worth the glimpse. I’ve had a cuckoo visit my back yard several times – like you say, it is easy to identify by ear. I hope one day I’ll actually see it!

    I love your blog – your photos and “voice.” It is truly a pleasure to visit.

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