To All the Birds I’ve Loved…

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Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala

A post previously put up in October of 2008 on Open Salon.

 

Caveat lector
This is a long post of mostly photographs with some notes and comments along the way.

I’m not a terrific bird photographer, it wouldn’t take you long to find others who are spectacular at this craft. I’m an ok bird photographer. But I love birds.

It is, however, extraordinarily difficult to photograph birds, and I’ve given a couple of examples below. I think in part it’s because they seem to move about in a different sense of time than we do. That is understandable somewhat when you consider how short their lives are compared to how we occupy our own time.

There are many things, really, that don’t match up with our sense of time. I remember being enthralled with images and presentations that skewed that sense for me. Movies like Koyaanisqatsi, or in some of Spielberg’s large scale backdrops that show dark clouds moving rapidly in the background while normal time sequences go on in the foreground. And consider this: Most of us think of the glass in our windows, indeed it’s true for any glass, as a solid. It’s not. Glass is a liquid; it just operates in a different time scale than what we can perceive. That window pane will be slightly thicker at the bottom in a generation or two because even glass in it’s own slow way is subject to the laws of gravity.

So birds move in a way that is on the other end of that spectrum from glass. Their movements are fast in a manner required to preserve their short lives for as long as possible. Which results, at least for me in my meager talents, in an exponentially greater number of shots that are filled with blurry lines than the ones that are merely decent.

The little gem at the top, the Gray-headed Kingfisher is one that demonstrates that spread of success (or failure). I have hundreds of him, and a half-dozen that I like. He’s small, only about 6 inches from tip of bill to end of tail, but what a handsome fellow. He knows I’m there and there is bright intelligence in that eye as he assesses the threat.

Now for some more. I hope you enjoy the compendium. (It really does represent a fraction of total shots to get these—and there are a couple of repeats from previous posts of mine—the Rainbow Lorikeet and Flamingos have been part of some previous blogs.)

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Double Wattled Cassowary Casuarius casuarius

Even with a fast lens—taken wide open at f/1.8—this guy was difficult to capture. It didn’t help that he was in a cloistered area surrounded by tall bamboo and the light was not optimal. The shallow depth of field, necessitated by the light, means that only part of his beak and the “casque”—the keratin extension of his bill on top of his head—were in focus. You can see below, he proves my point about the difficulty of photographing birds.

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Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja 

This beauty is a very large bird. It’s extraordinary that his habitat means that he has to maneuver between the trees in a rain forest as he seeks his usual tree-dwelling prey; monkeys, coatis and sloths. His wingspan is enormous, as you can see in in this not very good shot from this set of photos of mine which makes his agility all the more amazing. Note also, in one of the shots above how large his talons are. There is no measurement of scale in the shot, but trust me, those claws and talons are enormous. The talons are about 5 inches/13 cm long—longer even than a Grizzly Bear’s.

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King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa

This could be a good ad for Visine™—maybe not. This photo demonstrates a curious phenomena. All of these birds are in enclosed spaces, many behind some sort of screen or fence. If you use a shallow depth of field, and just focus on your subject you can minimize the fence or barrier and still come out with an ok shot. (And you have a good lens—this shot used the estimable Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR with a 1.7x teleconverter resulting in this being at 340mm, f/4.8, 1/60 second. I used a monopod too to stabilize the cam and lens.)

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Guira Cuckoo Guira guira

This cuckoo varietal is a favorite of our own dear tequilaanddonuts. I think she likes him because of his punk hair-do. The Guira is a non-parasitical cuckoo.

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Racket-tailed Roller (with molted, missing rackets) Coracias spatulatus

There’s something about seeing light blue in a bird that is pleasing, and this little gem is a perfect example. His normal habitat is the southern half of Africa. The following shows him with his rackets intact.

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Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Most eagles, as you can see here and above in the Harpy too, seem to me to have a look of being permanently pissed off.

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Victoria Crowned Pigeon Goura victoria

This little lady is huge—one of the largest in the pigeon family and about as big as a healthy sized chicken–about 29 inches/74cm long and almost 6 lbs. I think she’s perfectly named. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get a shot of the Victoria without some of her headdress in blurry motion—she’s a jerky bird. You can see the details in this larger version of a lucky shot.

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Black Swan Cygnus atratus

These are stately beauties, but watch your step. If you get too close you may be chased; they’re very territorial.

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Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis

Relative to another post of mine, the Saddle-billed Stork is represented in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

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Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phænicophæus curviostris Look at that! Two ligatures in the same word!

Remember back to the 50s and early 60s when it was all the rage to get an alarm clock or wrist watch with pale green radioactive luminescence? The Malkoha has the same kind of bill. The slightest bit of direct sunlight on its bill blows it out in digital photographs—it has that same pale luminescent quality as those watches. I’m not sure though if it glows in the night—probably not.

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White-crested Laughing Thrush Garrulax leucolophus

I love the name of this beauty. I’ve seen him several times, but never heard a peep out of him.

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Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

He just knows he’s special.

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Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus

Unbelievable colors!

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Caribbean Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber

all images copyright © 2006, 2007, 2008 · all rights reserved

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