But of course, everyone takes pictures to see something. Kids, cars, dogs, houses, birds, landscapes, cats, babies, sunsets, ourselves – we are endlessly saturated with images of what we like (and what we don’t). Our first response to most anything is to point a phone at it, but could it be this habit is actually lessening our powers of observation?
When I got a better camera for nature photography, my behavior changed. Rather than taking the time to study what interested me, my goal was now to get a high quality image. When that was accomplished the camera went back in the bag. But one day a chance conversation with a fellow birder set me on a new path. “I don’t use binoculars anymore” he said, “just a camera. I take my picture first, then I enjoy watching the bird, and if it doesn’t fly off maybe get a better picture.”
Using a camera simply to study the natural world? For my increasingly hazy eyesight this was a revelation. Taking time to just view life through the lens has increased the odds of serendipity, thereby leading to more interesting pictures.
Many of the images in this post were chosen for the unexpected gift of discovery they afforded. Others I look at with affection, again and again, to enjoy something as simple as the way feathers lay across a bird’s back.
I never knew a wild turkey’s back was so beautiful. The smooth metallic sheen reminds me of reptile scales – a reminder of bird’s dinosaurian origins.
Female Emerald jewelwing damselflies are less colorful than males and have a white spot on top of their wings. Studying this image closely, I noticed fine hairs all along its legs. Looking for a reason, I learned that females descend into the water to lay eggs on dead wood and reeds, breathing via a protective coating of air that gets trapped in the fine hairs on their bodies.
Eastern red bats often roost low in dense vegetation. This little bat was in a thicket of dense Bush honeysuckle when we went in to cut it down (we left the patch alone). I was fascinated by the claws on the end of its “thumb” bones, for clinging onto limbs and climbing up tree bark.
Not only are these caterpillars spiny, they have spines on their spines. It took a long time to ID this species, which was very abundant in June on some tall native sunflowers at the edge of the Louisville Nature Center parking lot. I finally settled on Painted lady as the species, and the plant these caterpillars were feeding on was the deciding factor. The Painted lady has a broad range of host plants including composites (and all of the other look-alike larvae have very specific host plants, and do not feed on sunflowers).
The Great crested flycatcher is one of those common but very secretive birds, heard way more often than seen. One of the largest and most colorful of eastern flycatchers, its loud “weeep” call rings out from the treetops in spring. Last week I was lucky enough to spend ten minutes observing this juvenile preening itself on a low branch.
I go back to this image often, ever amazed at the way this Black rat snake has wrapped itself around a low branch with such calm equilibrium. Though it looks quite knotted up, if the snake needs to make a quick exit it can slither out with great speed.
The clouds of Pearl crescent butterflies nectaring on Mountain mint were the original subject of this image. But as I watched a more unexpected pollinator showed up, the lovely blue and black Thread-waisted wasp. While nectaring, the females are watching for insects to capture, paralyze, carry to their nest and lay an egg on.
It was a very hot afternoon, and I suspected this Northern flicker’s open beak was helping it cool off. Looking it up, I learned about “gular fluttering”. When at risk of overheating, many species of birds will open their beaks and “flutter” their neck muscles, thereby promoting heat loss (think of it as the avian version of panting).
Another springtime pic, this migrating Gray catbird was briefly perched out in the open – an almost unheard of behavior for a catbird! The gentle morning light showed off the beautiful smooth blue-gray of its feathers; I had not realized till then how attractive these thicket-skulking mimic thrushes really are.