Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Audubon Interlude

I was standing patiently under my birding blind - a patio umbrella - to see if my backyard buddy Grandmaster Flash would fly down for some super-zoom close-ups, when a new face popped onto the fence top. Hmmm... yellow throat, soft eyebrow... Audubon's Warbler, Dendroica coronata audubonii. A winter migrant that likes to forage in the SF bay area 'burbs. I held still.

"well, what have we here?"

Apparently intrigued by the view, Audubon didn't notice me standing quietly under the umbrella, and so he dropped in for a closer inspection.

"hmmm... good bug hunting..."

And then he spotted my fountain. I swear I saw his eyes widen with that "ooooh" kinda look.

"and a fountain!"

Being a vain male that has to keep his grooming fresh for the ladies, he couldn't pass up a chance for a quick dip. I held my breath and snapped shots - now less than 10 feet away.

"maybe I'll take a quick dip..."

gurgle, gurgle...

"ahhhhh, refreshing..."

But then a sharp chirp from the other fenceline stopped Audubon's midday ablutions cold.

"uh - oh"

Uh oh - it's the missus.

"it's the missus!"

And in a wing beat, they were gone.


The Power of Stillness
Standing still is probably the most powerful tool in a naturalist's kit bag. In fact, it's exactly what animals do when they hear a noise, or see a movement. They freeze and do a quick threat assessment. "What's that?" "Does it see me?" But they also stop because they know most animals see by motion more than pattern recognition. I.e., if you're not moving, you mostly look like a shrub. Or, in my case, a tall, skinny post or snag. And even if they do think you might be a living something, if you're still and non-threatening, they'll often stay and give you a show, cause animals are curious too, and running away wastes energy.

Btw - even if animals you find do see you and startle, you can often keep them from fleeing by pretending NOT to notice them (just like modern dating). Yes, that's right, if they notice that you aren't noticing them, they'll freeze and let you walk right on by. But make eye contact, and most critters will skedaddle. "It sees me!" I've gotten some great photos of animals by watching them on my camera's LCD screen - instead of looking directly at them - as I slowly strolled by.

A final example for ya - while in the same spot on another day, my local squirrel came over the fence for a visit. He looked at me constantly and cautiously, but because I was still, he came down and hopped right past me - just 3 feet away. I was just another tall "object" on the patio.

mr squirrel


Interesting factoids:
  • Because most warbler species migrate around for winter forage, they're used by scientists as an indicator species for climate change. In warm winters, they tend not to migrate. In cold ones, they always do. Over the last decade, fewer and fewer of them are migrating.



  1. I so enjoyed reading this post. You are not only a gifted photographer, but you add that desired personal touch with your dialog! I can see that I'll be coming back to your blog often to peruse your archives! ~karen

  2. Thank much Karen. I'm learning on all fronts, and love it when the encounter practically writes itself. :)


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