Bad birds – Part 1

Rummaging through my entire photo collection so I could restore my laptop following the drive failure has offered me two things: discovery and fatigue.  The latter kept me from completing it sooner mainly because I kept feeling burned out having to reprocess thousands of images.  About halfway through the collection I realized I never wanted to look at another image again.  But like a trooper, I marched on.  A good reason to keep going was the sense of discovery—or more precisely, rediscovery.

A golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) perched on a branch (2009_01_17_004303)

Like this golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa), I found a lot of photos that won’t win any prizes or accolades.  Yet these are pictures I keep for ID purposes when I’m not sure what I’ve seen, or because I don’t yet have a better picture of that species.  Heck, sometimes I keep them because I once thought they were usable.

In the case of this kinglet, it was a dark, cloudy day and the bird flitted along the edge of the woodlands.  Too far away to see any detail and visible only for a few seconds, I snapped some photos anyway just in case it was of interest.

Having to look at each and every one of these photos over the past weeks has taught me it’s time to dump them.  Rather than delete them outright, however, I figured I could at least show you what’s been lurking in the pile all this time.

A winter wren (a.k.a. northern wren; Troglodytes troglodytes) standing on a rock in the middle of a shallow stream (2009_01_17_004472)

Keep in mind I’m not a photo snob; I don’t think every photo has to be technically perfect, though I do try for something less haphazard than what’s in these scenes.  After all, it wasn’t sloppy photographic standards that made me a published nature photographer.

Yet in truth, I’d forgotten about a lot of these.  Remanded to the back burners of memory, they eventually became lost in that place where forgotten things go.

This poor winter wren (a.k.a. northern wren; Troglodytes troglodytes) is a good example.  The bird caught me completely unaware: wrong lens on the camera, my attention focused elsewhere.  It kept returning to this shallow stream in the middle of the woods.  But I wasn’t photographing birds that day and didn’t have the lens for it.

I kept the photo as a reminder that you can never be too prepared for nature photography, but you can always be unprepared.

A Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) opening a sunflower seed (2009_01_17_004606)

Then there’s the time when I found this Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) beating the tarnation out of a black sunflower seed.  Chickadees are notorious for this stance: pinning a seed down with both feet while pounding it to death until it spills its innards.

Unfortunately for me, I discovered this scene at the end of a long walk.  I was dripping with sweat, miserable and tired and ready to go home.  Mosquitoes had munched on me all day, so I itched from head to toe.

As I walked along the trail leading to air conditioning and cold water, I heard something in the trees above me, but my overall malaise kept me from paying attention until I had already made enough noise to wake the dead.  I paused, lifted the camera and snapped this image—and then the chickadee flew away with its prize.

I had totally stepped on its dining buzz with my clumsy approach.  To eat in peace, it had to find another table.

Hey, don’t think it’s always my fault when a photo doesn’t turn out.  Well, okay, mostly it is, but sometimes it’s not.

A brown creeper (Certhia americana) clinging to the side of a tree (2009_03_07_012364)

Take this brown creeper (Certhia americana) as an example.  These birds are perfectly camouflaged for what they do: creep along the trunks and branches of trees.  Most people never see them even when the birds are abundant.

I usually find them by movement.  And I almost never find them if I’m looking for them, but instead they show up in my peripheral vision as a shadowy specter, something there yet not there.

And so it was with this critter.  I walked right by the tree, probably within a few steps of the bird, yet I never saw it until it moved.  I responded stupidly: by stopping and turning to look.

It responded in precisely the way I would expect: it flew to another tree some distance away.  I lost sight of it until it moved around the side of the tree where its profile stood out.  By then, though, it was too far away for a good photo.

OK, so that bad image is my fault as well.

I can at least say I’ve since grown much better at finding this species and getting close without disturbing them.  We learn from our mistakes…

A Lincoln's sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) standing in a pile of brush (2009_03_21_013906)

Fine, here’s a better example of an opportunity lost not because of my ineptness but because of circumstances well outside my control.

This Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii), like all its kind, is perfectly patterned and colored to make it invisible within the brush it inhabits.

Sure, these birds are numerous here and it’s rather easy to find them.  Photographing them is another story.

I had been looking for a clear view of a barred owl sleeping in the canopy when something caught my eye.  Movement, perhaps, or maybe just the dance of a shadow.

Once I found the sparrow, it had realized I was looking for it and had taken a stance of rapt attention.  And when my eyes fell upon it?  Yep!  Off it went.

A Bonaparte's gull (Larus philadelphia) floating on the lake's surface (2009_02_22_010858)

Not gregarious and not interested in people, finding a Bonaparte’s gull (Larus philadelphia) floating in the middle of the lake with several of its brethren made for a nice winter discovery.  And a bad photo.

A large group of these small gulls could be seen lazing in the warmth of a sunny February day.  That I found myself on the shore furthest from their location was like spittle in the face.

The much larger ring-billed gulls could be seen clearly.  But the Bonaparte’s gulls aren’t ring-billed gulls, and they looked like tiny white specs floating on a vast sea of reflection.

I took the picture anyway, even knowing it would lack quality.  At least it showed the birds were here, as they are every winter.

And after all this blathering ad nauseam, I’ve come full circle without making a point.

What I started with was the idea of bad birds.  Or more precisely, bad bird photos.  That’s the intent of this brief series: to expel the avian images still in my working set that aren’t of great quality but nevertheless deserve honorable mention.

4 thoughts on “Bad birds – Part 1”

  1. These are all wonderful! I have many “not good” shots like these, especially of chickadees and wrens which frequently visit my garden. The creepers are only around here (Maryland) in the winter so we expect to see them coming back soon. The Lincoln’s sparrow is adorable – I’ve never seen one in real life.

    1. Thanks, Marie! I’ve noticed the number of bad shots increases as the size of the bird decreases, so you’re spot on about the wrens and chickadees. Creepers, too, and we don’t see them much except in winter (their numbers go way up when it gets cold).

  2. Hi Jason-I know just how you feel about pictures that are not your best work, but there is still something of value in them. Feels good to just get them out there and move on. The longer I blog, the less picky I get about my pictures, because the story or the message I am telling has become more important to me. As it happens, my camera equipment and my pictures have generally improved over the last couple of years, and so I am lucky in that I happen to get pictures that are generally better now, than when the quality was more of my focus. Funny, the way things go sometimes.

    Where can I see your published work? You’ve got such great photos here on your blog, and I’ll admit that I have read several of your photography tips posts and already benefitted from your advice!

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head, Amber. After going through this exercise of reprocessing all of my images after my laptop died, I realized it was time to get these photos out the door so I could move on. And I’m generally picky about quality to an extent, though I’m more interested in the experience conveyed than how professional the picture looks.

      I’m thrilled to hear those photography posts have helped a wee bit. I have the next one coming soon (about general nature photography–including how to get close to wildlife). As for published photos, mine are in books and aren’t available online (the most recent being a wildflower field guide about the Carolinas), though I do share them here when I can. (I don’t call attention to whether they’re published or not. That feels a little snooty…)

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