Stepping back.

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

You have to realize that I even though I am a birder, I do not use binoculars. I use my camera as my bird viewing mechanism. When doing so, I click the shutter whenever I see a good shot, or whenever I see a lousy shot, but I am unsure of the bird identification.  I can always discard the bad ones in post production. Some days I have been taking over two hundred pictures.

Then it becomes time for post-production. The first step is to discard the obvious bad shots where the bird flew away, then if I have a good shot of the bird in focus, discard the out of focus ones. The next step is to enlarge and crop the shots I do have. Again more winnowing. The bad grainy shots are thrown away, unless of course a bad grainy shot is all I have of a particular species. (I do not have a decent picture of a Blue-black Grassquit, but I do have some really bad ones with enough information to let me know that it is a Blue-black Grassquit.)

Everything is then labeled with my personal metadata and keyword information about the shot. The keeper shots are then given more post production tweaking for brightness and contrast. Then there is the  rechecking to make sure I have the right species, and the research on the ones I am not sure about. I have been spending a lot of time doing this. A lot of time. So today, I am doing a Photoshop fast and will not be adding or checking or tweaking any images. I need a day to give it a rest.

Quality control.

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

I have been spending much of my time going over my photos. I seek to identify birds that were unknown. I look for errors I may have made in identifications. Ruddy-ground doves vs. Common Ground Doves. White-winged Doves vs White-tipped Dove, and the various stripes of Flycatchers. As I gain more knowledge, subtle differences seem more obvious. 

The bare essentials of bird watching.

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Today fresh out of my late afternoon shower, I peaked out the back door to see if there was any bird activity. To my surprise I saw four turkey vultures perching in the trees. You have to realize that a bird photography photo op is an opportunity that can be withdrawn at any moment. So, I dropped my towel, grabbed my camera and rushed out to the back yard to get some pictures.

Perhaps it is just as well that I am extremely isolated. A casual visitor would have probably have wondered about seeing a naked man with a camera looking up at the vultures in the trees.

A New Habit

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Now that I have started the practice, I am getting hooked on doing daily bird counts. Birdwatching is becoming more and more like meditation. Before it was going simply for the images and the thrill of the identification. Now I am coming to appreciate the nuances of the individual birds. How they sit, how they fly, how they preen, how long do they stay in one place.

eBird Global Big Day

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Today was the Global Big Day for eBird. I realized that the bird count for Santa Elena on that day would not be great. This weighs on my sense of local pride. I would have loved it if the count had been last month when there constantly birds at the birdbaths. But, I realize this is not about boasting, this is about science. I did not see a lot of species, but the highlight for me was observing a species I had not seen before, the Black-cowled Oriole, a beautiful black and yellow bird. If I had not been so diligent in watching, I am pretty sure I would have missed him. 10 species 20 individual birds.

Bird Counting

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Tomorrow is the Global Big Day for eBird, where they ask for people all over the world to log in the birds they saw. So today I did a practice count to see how the process would work. Presumably this will create data for global bird counts. I made a point of recording every bird that I saw.  13 species with 22 individual birds.

Henry David Thoreau

Virtual Location: Walden Pond

As today marks the 158th anniversary of the passing of Henry David Thoreau, I will be rereading “Walden” and his essay, “Resistance to Civil Government.” These are available at <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/205/205-h/205-h.htm>

As I ponder the ways of solitude, my memory reaches back fifty years to my studies of his writings. His book “Walden” offers insights on how to live a deliberate life.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Henry David Thoreau

Not only his thoughts on nature, but his essay, “Resistance to Civil Government” helped me to formulate my own early thoughts on politics and the pact between a person and his government. This was not just speculative philosophy. You have to remember that this was the 1960’s, the draft was in force, and the government did not look kindly upon those who questioned its authority.

Another memory comes to surface from my hitchhiking days when I wore a button with Henry David Thoreau’s portrait. I recall one hippy chick who recognized it immediately. We had an interesting intellectual weekend. 

Here’s to you, Mr. Thoreau. You helped to make the world a different place.

May Day


Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Today is Mayday. In the past, I have spent it dancing around the maypole and invoking the rites of spring. That activity is not really suited for quarantine. The trails here have become my temple. I do miss the exuberant gatherings of people, but as I go deeper into solitude, the bonds with nature seem to become stronger. 



Post Processing

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

Now that the migrations have passed, there are fewer species to admire, and the rains have made the birdbaths less of a gathering place. I still hopefully peer out the window, but there are less photographic opportunities. 

This morning I saw one Yellow Bunting and one Indigo Bunting. I don’t know if these are fellows that don’t like to follow crowds, of if these are the nerdy dudes that everyone “forgets” to invite to the party. 

With fewer birds to photograph, I am working on my backlog of images. I am doing more editing and adding identification tags to the images. I study each image, then realize that I had totally misidentified that raptor. I am left with the unknown birds and the not quite sure identifications. I delve into the books. I check online. There are subtle differences between the Common Ground Dove and the Ruddy Ground Dove that I wish I had known when I was seeing them live, or perhaps the bird in question is actually a red variation of a Blue Ground Dove. Birding is definitely not an activity for those who insist on completion.

I do miss the migratory birds, but I am grateful that they have been here at all, and that they decided to grace me for a few weeks with their presence and their beauty. I also marvel that they manage to travel so far and so accurately. Apparently one of their senses is magnetism, which they use to sense the earth’s magnetic field. That would be kind of like us having a GPS chip implanted in our brains.

Again, I express my gratitude. I, while under quarantine have managed to photograph over fifty species of birds without leaving my house. As I think this over, as there are fifty two weeks in the year, and I have photographs of over fifty two species of birds, I will feature one bird a week in my blog for the next year.

It’s always comforting when the neighbors stop by to check up on you.

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatán, Mexico

It is strangely quiet this morning. I only hear three different bird calls. The storm has driven most of the migrant birds away, and the perennials seem to be in no hurry to make their presence known. I only take about a dozen shots today, and most of these are of a black vulture in the trees. Seems appropriate. I suppose he has come to check up on me. Not today, my friend. Not today.

Black Vulture

Rather than shoot, I am looking at the photos of birds I have yet to identify. I send a photo to a birding neighbor, and she tells me that the bird is a dickcissel. She is correct, but I had never heard of a dickcissel. Who and why would someone name a bird a dickcissel? I find its picture in my bird book for Costa Rica.