Birds. Winged creatures. These uniquely beautiful beings have been a fascination to me as far back as I can remember. I have a distant memory from my adolescent years, watching from my bedroom window, when my mother held out her hand and waited for a sparrow to light, choose a seed or two, and fly off, only to return a few moments later. That memory steeped, waiting to resurface as 50 years passed, 40 of those practicing photography as a photojournalist and then as a commercial and advertising photographer.
The pandemic changed everything for most everyone, and much of my client work went into a holding pattern. Now, our backyard, which has always been a haven for reflection and solitude, became more, as the beautiful little flying creatures began speaking to me.
As a former photojournalist, capturing defining moments was the very fabric of my holding a camera. Both people and sports were filled with moments of peak emotion or action, so I was familiar with that way of thinking and making photographs. Prepared? Well, kind of ... These little beauties are small and fast, and getting close to them is nearly impossible. We don’t have feeders to attract them, so they are all residents of the trees and shrubs and what nature has to offer.
The good news is that I discovered that they are creatures of habit. From sunrise to midmorning, they are busy and their calls and songs are beautiful music as they go on surviving. By midday, the action has settled down. Then, as the sun begins making its path to the western horizon, the activity picks up again as day ends. The cardinals are the early risers and are late to settle in for the night.
Friends have asked me if I spend hours at a time waiting and watching. That is a bit of a luxury for me, so I go out during the busy times and hope for the best. I go out when the spirit moves me or I hear a song or a call and allow that moment to guide me to where it takes me. That is not all that far since our backyard is about half an acre. It also helps that adjacent to our backyard is a 10-acre nature preserve.
Surprisingly, the most satisfying aspect of this journey is the intense awareness of my surroundings and the newly learned ability to see tiny movements in a panorama of trees and shrubs. Spotting is only the half of it; finding that action with a camera lens with a very narrow field of view is the challenge. It is a great exercise for the mind and reflexes. I liken it to hunting with a camera.
All told, over the course of 18 months, I have successfully photographed 40-plus different bird species in or near my backyard. They are there for us to see and marvel; just take some time and a good set of binoculars.
Many thanks to Jay Keck of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, who with his incredibly deep knowledge, cultivated my spirit of bird watching; Gills Creek Watershed Association for their ongoing efforts to protect the watershed as a thriving natural wildlife habitat; and the W. Gordon Belser Arboretum for nurturing an extraordinary natural jewel in the middle of the capital city.