Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moving Closer

Today, a Swainson's Thrush collided with a window and died. Because this bird was such a small subject (six inches from beak-tip to tail-tip), and because it was so beautiful, I decided to photograph it right this time around. I borrowed an amazing macro lens from my father (Nikon 60mm f/2.8) and had my tripod set up so that my camera would be only inches from the ground.

It was a very gloomy, wet, and chilly September day, and when the rain finally let up, I placed the thrush outside, on our apartment's wooden deck. The surface was dark and wet from the rain, and it provided a nice backdrop for the bird. I spent probably 45 minutes photographing the thrush, and I am very pleased by the results -- I wish I could spend that much time with all of my subjects.

In the end, after taking close to 200 photographs, I came away with five that truly spoke to me. I encourage you to click the following photographs to view them larger on Flickr -- the larger these pictures are, the more powerful they become.

September Swainson's Thrush I

September Swainson's Thrush II

September Swainson's Thrush III

September Swainson's Thrush IV

September Swainson's Thrush V

For me, seeing this thrush so close was very moving. This was the first time in several months that I felt truly sad about the animal I was photographing, and seeing the images closer in Photoshop proved to be emotional. Everything about this bird was elegant and fragile: its speckled breast, whiskers, and blue eyelid; the way its feathers were so tiny yet so lace-like in appearance.

Because many birds are starting to migrate south for the winter, the likelihood of tired birds hitting windows is much higher. Therefore, it is very important to put decals on your windows to keep birds from thinking that reflections are trees for roosting. Decals don't have to be unsightly; some are so translucent that they are hardly noticeable. It is also important to place the decals outside, as when they are inside, they will not break up the reflections.

As much as I like to photograph birds -- they are challenging as well as beautiful -- I'd prefer to never have any window casualties to photograph.


  1. I did an internship this summer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and while I was there I had the opportunity to expand my mind further than I usually do during the school year. During my time in Maine, I learned to identify birds not only visually, but also through auditory calls and I have to say that thrushes produce one of the purest bird calls I've ever heard. I don't mean pure as in angelic and "sinless," though both apply, but just perfect pitch and tone. Often times you almost felt as if you were listening to a flute on the wind. I know this isn't the most relevant of comments, but this post strikes a particular chord for me. It's more than just beauty lost. It's really an experience of that beauty that's gone now. It's something that I'll remember forever.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more -- of all the birds, I think I love the song of thrushes the most. Over the summer, during a walk through the silent woods, I suddenly heard two wood thrushes singing back and forth to each other... it was a beautiful flute-like song that echoed through the forest, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard.

    That's awesome that you got to spend time where you did - were you banding birds? Once you start to recognize birdsong, it's like understanding a whole new language.