Animals Photography

For the Birds

I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath until I saw the election results. If it hadn’t been for the birds, I’m not sure I would have made it.

Northern Mockingbird
A disheveled young mockingbird takes a moment to realign itself atop the pear tree that still holds its nest.

What a year, eh? — so virulently packed with death, pestilence, and rhetoric. I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath until I saw the election results. If it hadn’t been for the birds, I’m not sure I would have made it.

Birds keep me grounded. Watching them flit around up there in the sky makes my life seem dimensionally stable in comparison. It seems that no matter what’s going on in my spun-up human world, they confidently go about their business: hatching, eating, fledging, scavenging, and breeding. Yet, upon closer inspection, I realize they are also dealing with death, pestilence, and perhaps rhetoric.

Bob and I started a joint bird list when we threw in together twenty-eight years ago and it now included four hundred species, pending Bob’s sighting of a Yellow-throated warbler. A new bird does not make it onto the list unless we both see it.

Here are a few of those birds, as seen through the lenses of our new cameras between May and November.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are extremely competitive. This beautiful male sits on a hanging planter near the sugar water feeder, daring anyone else to dine. I’d like to think I am not this proprietary with my daily feed.

Coming in for a landing, he keeps his eyes peeled for trouble.

It must feel good to finally reach his goal and take a long drink, although I can see from the upward tilt of his eye that he is still vigilant.

This female has found a workaround – the canna flowers in the front yard are seldom policed by the males.

Confident and bright, she approaches the canna flower. I love, love, love her little feet! I many be anthropomorphizing here, but I don’t see wariness or worry in her eye.

I can relate to how completely she fixates on her food.

Canada Goose

A pair of Canadian geese swim serenely, male slightly ahead. This is the first time I have seen any geese at all in the pond on Carl Foushee Road. I think about how they mate for life, a thought that brings me comfort and peace until I realize that Bob is not standing by my side. I have left him at home where he is filling his mind with words and numbers for pay. Maybe Bob will be with me the next time I stop to gaze upon a lazy pair of geese.

Great Blue Heron

“If there is such a thing as reincarnation,” I tell Bob, “I’d like to return as either a horse or a heron.” Herons are the Geminis of the bird world, seamlessly melding ungainly with stately.

We have yet to see an embarrassing heron moment. They always seem poised regardless of their clunky webbed feet or wind-fluffed feathers.

It is unusual to see a Black vulture so close to a blue heron. We wonder if they hang out together often and why we’ve never noticed before. Also, who joined whom, why didn’t the other just hop or fly away, and is the vulture eating a scrap from the heron’s latest meal?

Black Vulture

This was one of the very first photos we took with the Sony a6100, an old, Black vulture. We think he/she is old because of the white showing in its wing feathers.

Black vultures sit on the concrete walls of the spillway.

What do you suppose these guys are talking about? I find Black vultures irresistibly cute.

After I confess my inclination to walk over and touch a grounded Black vulture, Bob keeps his eye on me when in their presence.

One of the things I like about vultures is that they appear non-assuming and self-effacing.

Others might sense dark menace in this vulture perching so close to razor wire, but to me the bird’s expression seems dolefully hopeful.

Spreading his winds like solar collectors, a vulture welcomes the morning sun.

A Black vulture sits on the rocks as Bob inches toward it, and although the bird occasionally shifts as if to launch, it remains sitting until Bob can get a proper portrait.

Bob sees the reflection of himself standing atop Jordan Lake Dam in the bird’s eye.

Vulture beaks, Bob tells me, grow like fingernails, as do the beaks of all birds. This explains why a well-outfitted parakeet cage should include a cuttlebone for beak sharpening, and why I’ve seen wrens and bluebirds rub their beaks against branches and fenceposts.

Shore Birds

We encountered groups of Sanderlings while vacationing at Southern Shores and noticed that they often rest on one leg. I failed to grasp why they might find standing on one leg relaxing until the next time I assumed standing tree pose, one foot tucked up against my thigh, arms stretched skyward.

A Lesser Black-backed gull struts down the beach. Measuring nearly two feet, they have every right to be confident about their place in the coastal pecking order.

It takes a very secure bird to stroll about in full makeup.

Gulls and terns lounge on pilings in Duck, North Carolina.

Bob caught this image of an airborne gull. It appears suspended, much as I have been for the past few weeks, wondering if number 45 will be the last American president as my father predicts.

When Bob noticed two gulls arguing over rights to a piece of garbage, he readied his camera and followed their epic tussle as it rose into the sky.
Clearly not letting go, the garbage gull continues swooping and evading the pirate gull for several minutes.

Finally, the pirate breaks away, squawking in defiance and defeat.

Despite the illusion that birds have a copacetic life, I find they mirror my doubts and frustrations as often as my triumphs. I am learning to view myself objectively, to catch myself in moments of grace like the stately herons, in dishevelment like the fledgling mockingbird, and in mid-air meltdown like the squawking gull.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

4 replies on “For the Birds”

Good comparison and you wouldn’t realize how similar they are unless you watch them a lot. While standing at the kitchen sink the other day I noticed a cat in the neighbour’s yard eating SOMETHING under a tree. I had a feeling it was a baby bird. I went over but by the time I got there the head had been consumed. I saw the mother sitting above on the telephone lines with a worm in her beak. I apologized to her and walked off. I wonder if there were more babies up there as I did see the damn cat look up there like, “You’re next!” That’s the only part about spring I don’t like here. Great pics by the way! Birds are fun to photograph and observe!

Thank you, Steph! This means a lot coming from a published photographer. So much drama to be seen from our porch rockers and kitchen sink windows. There is no way I will get bored in retirement. I wonder if the birds assume from looking at us that everything is peachy all the time, or if they watch long enough to see the underlying drama.

Hah, Kathy! Sky rats – what an image. I picture them like rain. Hmmm – something to draw with my new pencils perhaps.

Don't be shy - leave a comment!