Friday, February 22, 2008

The Bird Whisperer & Photographer

I haven’t blogged about my photography for a while, so thought I’d do one on one of my favourite topics – Birds, and in particular, Sparrows and Birds in Flight.

Taking photographs of Birds in Flight is one of the hardest things to do. For one, most birds fly pretty fast, they rarely hover or wait for you to click the shutter. They are also totally unpredictable. They are able to change direction at the speed of light, and all you are left with are empty skies or empty branch images, or maybe a blur of wings in one corner. I’ve thrown out plenty of such images, and constantly praise the digital technology so I don’t have to print all the duds.

Canon EOS20D, Shutter Speed 1/500s, F7.1 210mm, ISO 100

Having said all this, after months of practice, I’m only just starting to see results. My first two successes were a few weeks ago while on a camera club outing in Devonport. It was made easy because two older ladies were eating fish and chips on a park bench by the seawall, so they were surrounded in gulls of all sorts.

Canon 20D, 1/320s, F4.0, 130mm, ISO 100

And then on a visit to the Domain on the morning of my ear operation, I took some bread down to feed the birds. Because I was going to the hospital straight afterwards, I didn’t take my camera, and I was kicking myself – as the birds were really tame, confidently taking bread straight out of your hands all while flying.

So on Tuesday this week, I returned to the scene with my camera, with the sole intention of getting images of sparrows taking bread out of someone’s hand while in flight. I took my daughter with me to hold the bread up in the air. I sat on a chair side on to her, very close, so I used my 100mm 2.8 macro lens, which doubles up as a medium telephoto.

Canon EOS 20D 1/200s, F2.8, 100mm ISO 400

We were surrounded in ducks, geese, pigeons, seagulls, and Indian Mynahs. Yet the only birds we were interested in were the sparrows. The pigeons were also very tame wanting to land on your arms/wrists also to feed, but we shooed them away. No easy task as there were so many of them. The other problem we had is holding your hand up for long lengths of time was difficult, so we had to have plenty of breaks.

Even being so close to the subject, didn’t make it any easier. Sparrows are incredibly fast. They were only at the bread for less than a second before flying away again, just grabbing a few crumbs then leaving. That’s why out of the 100 photographs I took, only two turned out properly.

Canon EOS 20D 1/200s, F2.8, 100mm ISO 400

I’ll be going back to try again next week.

I’ve always like sparrows. Not many people do, as they think they’re ‘common’, but they’re very pretty and intelligent birds. The males have much darker markings on than the females.

A couple of years ago, I was at the Auckland International Airport cafeteria, having a coffee with someone before they flew out overseas. I noticed that a sparrow was inside, picking the leftovers at all the table. It just goes to show that diet is really important to staying healthy, as I’ve never seen a sparrow in such bad condition. It was overweight, feathers were falling out. I watched it as it picked the crumbs of cakes, (too high in sugar), I saw it drink orange juice left over, and the I watched it on the rim of a coffee cup drinking the leftover of a flat white. (I didn’t have my camera!!). It was in such bad condition, I half expected it to jump on an ashtray, and pick up a cigarette butt and smoke the rest. I was half expecting it to cough too. I’m waiting for an excuse to head out to the same café to take some photos of this bird! I’m sure it will still be there – as why go outside when a constant supply of food is available inside?

Another experience with a sparrow happened about a year ago. As I left the bank in Takapuna, something caught my attention out the corner of my eye, so I looked down – there was a sparrow that I had almost stepped on. I stood still, with my heels of my feet together, and toes pointing outwards, and it walked in and sat there wanting protection. When I tried to pick it up, it flew a few metres away. So I thought it was okay, so carried on walking. Within minutes, it had flown back to me, and landed on my jeans on the side of my legs by my knee. This is not normal sparrow behavior. It looked in my eyes and pleaded with me.

Someone from the bank who had been watching this, came out and asked me if I would like a box. I said yes. By this time I had an audience. Next minute the sparrow flew onto the road. I walked out, held up the traffic with my hand as the bird was going to get run over, and herded it back to the footpath. By this time the girl from the bank was there with a box, so I popped the box down next to the bird, and the bird just hopped into it. I couldn’t believe it. I just closed the lid, and took it back to my car.

I sat in the car and wondered what to do with it. It was obviously not well, as it’s behavior was most unusual. I couldn’t take it home, or my cats would think I had a tasty treat for them. Fortunately my vet was on the way home, so I took it in there. They popped it in a cage overnight and gave it food and fluids, and apparently it was well enough to be let go the next day. They wondered if it had been stunned by a car, or flown into a window.

I really believe that the sparrow knew that I would help it, and it chose me to be its guardian angel. It’s not the first time it’s happened, but I will blog about that another time. I do have a nickname amongst some friends as ‘The Bird Whisperer’!!


Anonymous said...

Sparrows are my favorite birds. There are other birds I like, but the Sparrows have a special place in my heart. There is a certain fragility and tenacity about them that makes me chase away the doves from my feeder so the sparrows can get more.

Bron said...

Wow, I am drooling over that photography.

Yeah I like sparrows too. My canary Finn actually looks like one! They are cute little buggers.

Sam said...

Wow, what an amazing little story! I remember a time during my childhood when I rescued a bird (I seem to recall that it was a robin) from the cat and when I took it up to the woods to release it, it stayed on my finger for quite a while - as if to say Thank you - before flying off to safety!

Abbie said...

You are an amazing photographer!! Am I right to guess that your surgery is on March 17th? I'm trying to figure it out but I realize you guys are a day ahead of us. I just want to make sure :)

Regarding i'm a'hooterin and a'hollerin for you! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Abbie,

Thank you - My photography is a work in progess, and I try hard. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

And yes - March 17. Monday. I'm so nervous!! More so than usual because it's going to be a difficult operation, and it's my only hearing ear :(


bawriter said...

hi robyn, i write a newsletter for a rescue and rehab group (sparrows included) hope your surgery was success. best regards, east valley wildlife

Anonymous said...

Hi BAWriter

I'd love to see those newsletters - can I see them online? Where is East Valley?

I look forward to hearing from you again - yu can email me at