Bird watching

Yesterday I was lying in a puddle on the back deck, hoping to get a clear picture of a bird nesting in a yard ornament that we’d bought at the art fair a couple years ago.

We’ve had birds try to nest in this thing before, but they usually decide there’s too much foot traffic or possibly the space gets too hot in the middle of the summer and it’s abandoned before a family is produced.

Honey, I’m home!

This year Steve and I know there are baby birds in it because the parents have been back and forth to the entrance of the thing with bugs and caterpillars. It’s fascinating. I never thought I would be a bird watcher in the last third of my life but now I find that I enjoy observing them when they show up at the feeders or whistling back to them when I’m out walking the dogs.

With the birds in the ornament, the main question has been, what species of bird are these?

“Is it a sparrow maybe?”

“Nah, it doesn’t have any of the markings for a sparrow.”

“Maybe a wren?”

“But it doesn’t hold its tail like a wren.”

Neither of us has the sharpest eyesight anymore, so we’ve been taking pictures of the birds with our phones, but the results have not been great and we couldn’t find any matching blurs in the bird books on our shelves. I thought maybe my old Nikon Coolpix L810 might get a good enough picture that we’d be able to ID the birds at last.

First I set up on the rail of the deck just outside the back door. But the bird on foraging duty proved a bit camera shy with me standing there and I decided I’d have better luck if I moved the camera to the floor of the deck and hunkered down behind it. Maybe the railing would hide me enough that my quarry would lose his inhibitions and resume making trips to the fish ornament. I propped the camera up with some sticks so that it was pointing right at the front of it. All I’d have to do is tap the shutter button to get a shot.

Eventually, the bird returned to the nest and I got some pictures of it, but I was still hoping for a side profile to complete the series and decided to hang out a bit longer even though it wasn’t exactly comfortable on the deck. I’d managed to lay down in a small puddle and mosquitos were whining in my ears. I thought about how wildlife researchers sat outside in all kinds of weather, fending off bugs and snakes and other horrible things, waiting for their subjects to make an appearance. At least it wasn’t raining. The air was warm and pleasant. I turned my head and watched fluffy clouds passing by overhead. I could do this. I just needed to be patient.

Bugs! It’s what’s for dinner!

I thought about the bird going back and forth endlessly. It couldn’t be an easy task, hunting bugs and worms for a hungry family. Did a bird ever think to itself, “This is taking so long! How come I’m always the one to make dinner! And the kids will probably hate it!”?

Anyway, on one of its return trips the bird spotted me behind the rail and started to chitter at me, first from the safety of a pine bough over the deck and then from the glider, which was between me and the fish ornament. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch,” he called, over and over, which I interpreted as, “I see you hiding there, you big human! Bugger off!”

I lay there, trying not to make eye contact, exuding calm and non-predatory thoughts. “I’m harmless, harmless, harmless. Look, I’m not even moving. It’s fine. Nothing to worry about. I’m a rock. Or a plant. Or some other inanimate, perfectly ordinary thing.”

He just kept yelling at me, and now I could smell dinner, a chicken and wild mushroom and green bean curry that Steve was making. What if he came to the door to tell me it was ready and scared the bird off before I could get my shot? Then I’d have to start all over again. It sure sounded like this bird wasn’t going to go back to his nest until I left.

Unfortunately, my camera was focused on the lawn ornament, not the glider. I didn’t know if I could move it and not startle him into leaving, but I decided I had to try. I had the camera set to “Pet Portrait” and I hoped if I pressed the shutter button it would automatically focus on my target.

Definitely a wren.

It took a few tries but it worked! I got up off the deck and brought the camera in to show Steve.

“What do you think?”

“That’s a wren.”

I was so pleased. We looked at the picture on the back of my camera all during dinner, which was delicious, by the way. No bugs or caterpillars at all.


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