Thursday, November 18, 2010

Otters, Mystery Bird Clues, Photography Ruminations

Mike Crewe had 3 River Otters on Lily Lake yesterday, pretty much the only report of note, though I see Melissa broke the Bald Eagle season record yesterday with the 478th in an otherwise lackluster flight, and Doug had Purple Sandpipers et. al. in an also lackluster flight at the Avalon Seawatch. Remember to check View From the Field for count results.

On the Mystery Bird (below), clue #1 is: it's not white. This is actually not such a hard i.d., in part because we know where it is (New York State), can see the habitat, and know the date and time from the trail camera data at the bottom. That's a big deal. I know my first questions when someone calls me with a bird I.D. question are "where did you see it?" followed by "how big was it?" and "what was it doing?"

Since I'm still without my camera (though I've been experimenting with a very nice loaner of a different brand), I've been reflecting on bird photography, which has been taking off as digital SLR cameras and lenses get better, if not cheaper. Birding festivals pack busses with photographers on field trips. So what does this mean to birding?

Call me a Luddite, but I definitely don't think birding is going to become identification of birds in photos (others have said/complained this) because that's just not as much fun as watching real birds, but I do have a theory on birding ability and success as it relates to photography. As long as you continue to look at birds in the field, photography (or looking at photos) will make you better. Since I re-started photographing birds about a year ago after a long lapse (once upon a time, when cameras still used film. . . ), birding has been in a bit of a renaissance for me.  The best I can explain is that taking pictures, or rather studying them after, is like suddenly learning to draw - all those details laid bare for lengthy examination might not equal processing them in the field and putting them on paper, but photos make a fair substitute.

The downside is this: if you just take pictures and don't watch birds in the field, besides having less fun, you will never develop an appreciation of subtle movements like tail pumps, wing flicks, head turns, hops, runs, wingbeats, speed, diving motion, and on and on, and will also have trouble judging size in the field and therefore trouble applying this most important field mark. Also, although some photos do a fine job of displaying typical bird shapes, many (most?) seem to catch birds in positions that don't translate well into what we see in the field. I often find myself going through a sequence of photos of a bird saying "they don't look like that, they don't look like that, nope, nope. . ." until I'll hit one that jumps out at me: "THAT's what they look like!" Also, with digital post-processing of photos, one occasionally sees photographs where the colors or ligthness/darkness are not true to what we see in the field, something that will go unnoticed by observers who haven't watched live birds.

And finally. . .photos don't call.

Coming soon: BIRD NAKED!

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