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The outing for which I have no evidence

November 15, 2010
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What did I do before I started taking a camera with me in the field?  Seriously.  Since I started writing this blog I’ve tried, with mixed results, to jazz up my posts with photos of the places I go and the birds I see.  People are generally intimidated by a wall of text, so even if my photos aren’t very good (and they generally aren’t), having something to look at breaks up the monotony somewhat.  It seems only really really sharp writers can get away with photo-less posts, and in the bird blogosphere we can’t all be Great Auks.

All this is a round-about way of saying that there was a point on my weekend birding outing with my dad (in town for the weekend) to some spots on Falls Lake in Durham County when I lifted my camera up to focus on a large flock of Rusty Blackbirds and discovered my camera was not working.  The memory card, that my wife removed to download some photos of the kid, was not replaced.  The little door hung open and empty.  I was not taking photos on this day.  But because the blogosphere abhors a photoless post, I think I found a few to keep you all happy.

As I said, my parents were in town for a few days, one of the advantages of hosting the only grandchild, and as we did back in the days when I was just a young birder, my dad and I slipped out Saturday morning to look for the birds.  I decided on Falls Lake in Durham County for two reasons; the hope that I’d turn up a couple new birds for the county and I thought it would be nice to show my dad a bit of local birding lore, as this was the site of the long-staying Connecticut Warbler.  My dad and I usually hit up Mason Farm, but since they recently got their gate working again I haven’t gotten around to picking up a new key card, it was out.  Lake birding isn’t something I usually do with him around here so it was a nice change of pace.  And the first order of business fell right into place as a scope sweep turned up a small group of huddled Wilson’s Snipes, not unlike the one to the left. My first county bird of the day.

The Snipes, typical winter shorebirds though they are, weren’t the only ones around.  We picked up several dozen little Least Sandpipers too, and a single Pectoral along with the ever present Killdeer.  The end of the peninsula was the site of a feeding frenzy as easily a hundred Double-crested Cormorants and as many Ring-billed Gulls, along with several Great Blue Herons, picked six to eight inch fish out of the water as if they were change on the ground.  A closer look at the gulls managed to turn up a couple Herrings, including one really nice adult bird.  This far inland they’re uncommon and always present in small numbers with the Ring-bills.  The game of find the Herring is what passes for hard-core gulling around here.  There were, however, a few Bonaparte’s Gulls about as well, poking around in the mud like common shorebirds.  Another one of my targets and a long overdue county bird.  That’s two.

Those birds were great to be sure, but there ere so many opportunities for photographs that I stopped pointing them out after awhile.  Why is it that the birds seem to sit up extra nice when the camera is out of commission.  I’m a relatively recent bird photographer (and I use that term very loosely), but it’s happened enough to make a point of it.  The Mockingbird soaking in the golden morning sun.  The Rusty Blackbirds perched so obligingly.  The Ruby-crowned Kinglet dancing in the cedar tree seemingly unable to lower its scarlet coif.  That sort of thing.  It’s maddening, really.  Rest assured it won’t happen again, or at least, I’ll need to continue togo out of my way to make birds with honorific names a regular part of my day list.

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9 Comments
  1. Danielle permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:00 am

    Oops.

    ~The Wife

  2. November 15, 2010 8:12 am

    This is why I have the DSLR while “Oops. ~The Wife” has the point-and-shoot. 😉

    Well, I guess you do expect some kind of philosophic answer as to why birds always come close when the camera’s off duty, but there might be a very real and rational reason.
    If you have a camera around the neck and you spot a potential target bird, there will be an immediate action. You make eye contact with the bird and immediately raise the camera – the bird can plainly see that you have it targeted (for what, it doesn’t know, but if you’re a small songbird it’s better to be ignorant than sorry) and off it goes. Without the camera, the observation will be more “unsuspicious” for the bird and it might stay a bit longer.

    I guess.

  3. November 15, 2010 8:18 am

    I am sadly reliant on my camera, or, to be more specific, my digiscoping rig. On occasion I do like to bird with just my bins and does it ever feel weird.

    Nice on the county birds…

  4. November 15, 2010 9:02 am

    @Corey: it’s happened during two of my birding trips that my camera broke down and as much as I hated it, it was interesting, and maybe even “good”, to get back to my roots and just watch. Watch very closely.

  5. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:21 am

    Man, that sucks! I wasn’t able to get very close to any of the birds though – on the west shore there was a duck hunter, and I guess he had put out some feed for the ducks or something because the gulls and cormorants were all over there. He fired in the air a couple of times (which was kind of a holy crap moment! Guns are loud!) and everything, including that big flock of gulls at the end, just up and alighted. Still managed the same gull diversity you found, just not in the numbers.

  6. jmj permalink
    November 15, 2010 6:11 pm

    To be honest, I used to take the camera out with me every time as well, but I’ve gradually gone back to just binoculars most of the time. I’ve found I observe much less when I’m trying to get photos, and that just lifting the camera up (as jochen mentions) usually tends to scare birds away more quickly than if I’m just observing.

    I still usually take the camera along, but it rarely comes off my shoulder unless there’s something particularly special that I want to document. I suppose if I had a really nice expensive lens instead of just my relatively cheap 200mm, I’d probably be more inclined to use it again though

  7. November 15, 2010 6:41 pm

    When I don’t have my camera, I tell myself that I just want to enjoy the birds rather than photograph them. Like you said, that is when the light is just right and they pose perfectly. Oh well. Birding is fun with our without photos!

    Update on our move…It looks like we are coming your way afterall…somewhere in the greater Raleigh area. We’ll be heading there the week after Christmas.

  8. Nate permalink*
    November 15, 2010 10:09 pm

    @Danielle- Should I bring up the fact that I discovered later I had the point in shoot in the back seat of my car the whole time?

    @Jochen- No way man. It’s because the birds know. There’s no way they would be scared off by my rinky dink little number.

    @Corey- Thanks! On the occasions I bird without a camera I feel the same way. Plus, it’s one less thing to haul around. I generally like to unpack when I go out rather than pack up.

    @Robert- My dad and I saw those duck hunters too. They looked like they were setting up as we were leaving. I don’t know what they were shooting at, wwe didn’t see any ducks.

    @jmj- It sounds like your camera philosophy is similar to mine. I very rarely go out of my way to get a photo, most of what I take are incidental sorts of stuff. but I still take it with me often than not because you never know.

    @Robert (BIF) – Excellent! I think you’ll like the Raleigh area. The triangle has some nice things going for it, and some excellent birders. I look forward to seeing you at the Wake Audubon meetings!

  9. November 15, 2010 10:11 pm

    I love this post – so I guess I have to say I’m glad (just for this once, anyway) that you were cameraless.

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