It’s brilliant and bright outside: the kind of chilly day that deceives you with light. Why haven’t we learned over all these years that the brightest days are often the coldest, as if the light refracted through the remnants of a hard frost is even brighter than light unadorned?
Reggie and I saw a hen pheasant this morning: she was hunkered in the leaves next to a fence skirting one of the factories along the railtrail, and I was stopped taking a photograph while Reggie was sniffing dead leaves. Had the hen not moved, I’d have never seen her, as she was exactly the color of dry leaves. Had we both–Reggie and I–not stopped, I’m guessing this bird would have let us pass, not stirring the slightest to betray her presence. But with both a snooping person and nosy dog in close proximity, the hen first walked and then flew away, wanting to have nothing to do with our impertinence.
I don’t think I’d ever seen a female pheasant at close range and indeed didn’t recognize it at first, initially thinking we’d stumbled upon a female grouse. But the bird’s pointed tail and stiff, skittering flight were both indicative of pheasant rather than grouse, as was the fact that she flew to a nearby field rather than a neighboring row of trees. But my first startled impression belonged to no particular species: just the sound of leaves rustling, then the startled realization that one particular patch of dry-leaf color was vaguely bird-shaped and moving. In the split second before my mind could apply the category “pheasant” or “grouse” to that moving, bird-shaped patch of dry-leaf color, the only thought I could formulate was “some sort of brown, gallinaceous bird.”
Had I been a Stone Age hunter with a slingshot, that would have been enough for me to toss off a shot or two, as brown gallinaceous birds are tasty, regardless of whether you tag them “pheasant” or “grouse.” Instead, I raised my camera, had the presence of mind to switch the setting from “macro” to “auto,” then snapped several shots in the general direction I knew the bird to be, not being able to see foot nor feather of her on my camera view-screen.
Some of our best shots, I’ve learned, are blind ones, taken with an air of “what the hell?” J recently mentioned he’d like to try his hand at bird photography, and I’ve been slow to stick my birder’s foot in that open door. I think J would enjoying birding, as I do, and I think it would be something fun for us to do together…but I also know how difficult it is to watch birds with nothing but bare eyes and binoculars. Knowing how elusive birds can be, and knowing how challenging it can be spot them in any light much less the prime conditions needed for photography, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be go birding with a camera. As much as I like birding and photography as their own separate pursuits, I’ve always been too lazy to try to combine them.
For this reason, whenever J expresses his budding interest in bird photography, I find myself thinking, “Oh, you have no idea what you’re getting into!” But then again, most of us don’t know what we’re getting into on any given day, and we don’t let that stop us. Without having much of a clue but with an air of “what the hell,” we simply point our cameras, aim our slingshots, or stick our feet in doors, trying to have the presence of mind to switch our settings before taking a blind shot.