Monday, June 15, 2009

Getting to Know You

Have you ever had one of those extra special personal interactions with wildlife that you never dreamed could happen? Well I have, and they keep me out looking, waiting for the next time that nature reaches out a feathered wing, a leafy branch, or a furry tail. The more time I spend outdoors, the more I love the small and simple things - so common and yet not.

As I went out this morning for a walk with my wife and new 7 month old daughter, I found the lighting perfect to capture some great images. I have been taking plant photos for another project that I am working on. There are so many new plants (weeds) that I don't know, having never lived on the plains, that I want to identify, so I take close-up pictures of plants to research later. I compose my shots carefully to show the common in unusual ways, so now I have quite a collection of Beautiful weeds. What a calendar it will make some day.

Well, that is not really the story that I wanted to tell. When climbing fences and taking my time to find something to add to my plant collection, I found myself face-to-face with one of my very vocal neighbors (Cassin's Sparrow). So why not photograph him too? He must have known he was my subject for a special photo shoot today. At close range, he permitted some great poses. Although not brightly colored, nor unusual in appearance, his flight and song make him a real treat to see so closely. I always consider this a gift and always appreciate it. After taking many pictures and having front row seats to his flight display, I wanted to get a picture. I am finding it almost impossible to do with my digital camera. The shutter and autofocus seem never to be in sync. I sometimes get a blur of wings or a blank shot of the sky. Maybe that is why I take pictures of plants. They don't seem to leap out of way.

There he sat on the barbed-wire and begged me to come closer. I failed miserably in getting a flight photo, but was then given a much better gift. As I leaned up against a power pole to steady myself and get a little cover, he popped up from the brush onto the fence wire about 15 feet away. As I was directly in line with the fence, my camera focused on the post in front of him. So I leaned out for a better view, and the bird seemed to feel my desire for a better shot. He started to hop and walk, foot-over-foot, down the wire toward me. I just stood there gawking and never even thought about getting it on film.

Before I knew it, he was only 6 feet away behind the fence post. Then, as if to play peek-a-boo, he leaned out and looked around the post at me and then leaned back. He did this several times before jumping into the air and landing on the wire agian. I could nearly reach out and touch him. He displayed several times as I tried to take some arial photos. It seems such a small thing, but the interaction was so real. I am better for having experienced it and to have taken the time to slow down and see and hear.

Is this sparrow only common like a weed, or is a weed a flower fit for framing? I only know that I will continue to collect beautiful things: weeds, flowers, sparrows, rocks, and images. My world is like a buffet with so many things to taste. I love to take some of everything, for I may find my new favorite, but will always come back to the common everyday things so familiar to me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Personal Air Show

I have spent more time in the yard this past couple of weeks since school let out. The garden is doing well and so are the weeds. We had some good heavy rain that saved me watering the yard, however it just about washed my garden out. I have hoped the plants know how to push through the mud that covers them. It has taken a few extra days but now they seem to be growing fine in sunny weather.

While in the yard a new song captured my attention. I finally got a look at the bird singing it. It is a sparrow that I was not familiar with. It has a long tail and nearly constant song. I had to take some time to identify it- so I took my camera out and did my best to get a picture of it. Its song identified it to be a Cassin's Sparrow. It is one of my new favorite birds. I love birds that sing with heart and soul. A song filled with joy and energy, not for any particular purpose, but just for fun. Their favorite stage is on top of a yucca, or a conveinent wire. I have only seen Cassin's Sparrows one other time, but now they are my constant companions singing, making my time in the yard more pleasant. Their early morning songs accompany my dreams, punctuate my work, and sing me to sleep at night.

They have no striking colors or patterns but have captured my admiration for two reasons. The first is their song which varies little and yet is a tune that gets stuck in your head. The second is their amazing flight display. I have to say it reminds me of a jet fighter landing on an aircraft Carrier. They launch themselves straight into the air and then with head reaching to the sky, feet stretched forward to the ground, tail cocked back as if a parachute land ever so gracefully in the weeds. They repeat this many times throughout the day. I appreciate the break from my yard work, which will assuredly be there after a bird break, and listen and watch.

One of the commonest visitors to the yard is the Horned Lark. They are not particularly concerned with my presence. They will land in the garden with me and sing their chime-like song, or find some fast food to nibble on.

Over the last few months I have learned to love the great maneuverability in flight they have. They are constantly on the road and seldom have a problem waiting till the last moment and darting off just in the nick of time. When with a partner they seem to delight in complicated synchronized flying- as if performing in a military air show. They carve their way across the fields. Flying low they veer suddenly upward and just as suddenly weave an intricate pattern with wing man tucked neatly in position, never missing a beat. Bursts of speed are followed by separation of the team, only to again resume the show. Was this show meant just for me, or simply a time to feel the wind beneath powerful wings and try something new, just because they can?