Watch the Birdie

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One of our tree sparrows.

When I was little I remember  a photographer saying, “Watch the birdie!” as we sat for a family portrait.  I don’t remember what we were looking at.  But lately I’ve been watching the real birdies fly down to our suet cakes with the intention of using my new camera to freeze them in time.

Before last week we had a wire cage that hung from a swing arm on the deck (see top photo).  When the squirrels unlatched it and dumped the food, I said, “This’ll fix them!” as I tied it with string.  Apparently that night they said to each other, “This’ll fix her!” as they carried it between them like a washtub full of summer watermelons across the yard and out to the woods.  I haven’t found it yet.

So I put the pieces of lard/peanut butter cake on a stand right outside the door to the deck.  I can, surprisingly, do quite a bit of work sitting at the kitchen table and scoop up the camera when I see fluttering.  So far I’ve caught the common folk: sparrows, juncos, wrens, tufted titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers.

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I like the warm colors of the Carolina wren.

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“Hewit,” says the tufted titmouse, with his crest barely visible.  Click on the picture to see some incredible detail around his eye.

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The downy has a smaller bill and body than the hairy woodpecker.

Our North American flicker has been to visit, but I caught a glimpse of him only as I was walking through the dining room, and by the time I reached for my camera he was gone.  I’m still waiting for another chance to see the pileated woodpecker that I’ve seen only one time.  I thought he was a hawk at first, but his red “pineapple” crest was unmistakable.  Probably only a visitor from a bigger forested area,  but I can hope.

One day my husband said, “Look!” as I was at the table, and what I hadn’t noticed, again, was a family of four white-tailed deer walking back of the fence.  Their movement gave them away as their color tried to protect them.

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Sitting on the step outside in the uncommonly good weekend weather to monitor the filled feeder by the fence, I wondered if the birds might be trying to copycat the Loch Ness Monster, they were so unavailable.  Even the squirrels were nowhere to be found.  I thought it would be a perfect chance for the birds to get the seed that was meant for them, but they didn’t take it (Meanwhile I experimented with different aperture numbers for shots of the trees and sky).  Then Downy crept up a bare oak.  I wonder if he always does that in spirals?  I got a few shots off while he was on my side, but they weren’t very good.

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Of course, after I came in the house and started working on the computer I saw a flash of red.  Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal were out there.  As I sidled up to the door frame, I’m sure he saw me, because he quickly disappeared.  I got her picture, though.

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So here’s a little proof that I’m putting a belated Christmas gift to use, grateful that in today’s world I don’t have to pay for and develop film for the number of shots I take while watching the birdies.

New Toy

I’ve decided to shutter instead of shudder in the cold of winter with the help of a belated Christmas gift, an Olympus OM-D.  I chose this model because it was recommended by two friends whose photography I admire, and who said they liked the way its smaller frame handles.  I think I will, too.

I don’t know that anyone would consider me a camera buff, but I have always liked taking pictures.  The nameless brand I used to record my 4-H projects of long ago was black with a round flash holder on top which a bulb could be screwed into.  I remember the firesmell as it flashed and fizzled to black during its shining moment.  Taking the roll of film to the drugstore and picking it up the next week, I found it had morphed into square black and white prints with the date and year stamped in the margins.  I put them in my scrapbook (which resembled nothing of those today) with little corners we licked so they would stick to the page.

Along came Instamatics with snap-in 110 film cartridges and flash cubes.  And flash cube towers!  Easy to take on vacation — and everyone did.  The ratio of station wagons full of kids to Instamatics was probably 1:3 in the 1960s and 70s.  Kodak did a great business when families took up the challenge to “see the USA in your Chevrolet.”  I guarantee there were more pictures of Old Faithful taken by Instamatic cameras than any other until the IPhone was invented.

The market was also saturated with the Swinger.  “It’s the Swinger, the Polaroid Swinger…only nineteen dollars and ninety-five.”  Oh, how I wanted to be the girl in that commercial!  The best I could do was wear white lip gloss and use my carhop tips to buy a camera like hers.  Now that was chic technology.  Could anyone imagine an instrument so advanced it would produce a photo right away?  And a blurby image to be seen as it solidified?  In color!

In college I took Photojournalism, which required a single lens reflex (SLR) camera of which you could adjust the shutter speed and aperture.  Brick wall.  Since I didn’t have the funds to buy one of those, I borrowed one, but it turned out to be older than the one I’d used before the Instamatic.  An Argus.  “That’s a dinosaur,” my professor remarked, and I did the best I could with it.  The developing room at Ball State was located in the basement of an old two-story house that was one-third of the Journalism Department at the time.  And mice liked the place, too.  You get the picture.  The best thing I got out of that class was reading the biography of Margaret Bourke-White.

My husband and I put the nice Minolta SLR we bought after our children were born to very good use, which I’m reminded of every time I try to organize photographs from the last 30 years.  These (and envelopes full of their negatives) are left over from what we’ve put in albums.  I also took great slides on trips which I was able to use in school presentations for a time.

But in the digital age, cameras are changing so very quickly.  In the past we wouldn’t have believed someone telling us the same little camera would take both still and moving pictures (my dad’s Bell and Howell would be another subject for a blog).  I’ve been pleased with two point-and-shooters, a Canon and a Nikon, which I’ve used in the past few years.  Of course my Smart Phone, like everyone else’s, makes me look good without too much effort.

Now I’m back to adjusting shutter speeds and incoming light.  I’m actually reading the instruction manual.  So far I have charged the battery and attached the strap (I tend to get things backwards, so having the strap on squarely and securely is an accomplishment).  I hope that success follows in the shots I get, too.