I had the opportunity to sit and chat last week for an hour with a couple of bird photographers in southeast Arizona. We were seated next to a photography blind at Mary Jo’s Ash Canyon B&B outside Hereford, AZ. All three of us had cameras with really long lenses and were sitting next to the Mecca of feeding stations that included dozens of hummingbird feeders, flowers, seed feeders, suet feeders and jelly feeders.
Our initial polite introductions soon turned into an engaging conversation about birding and bird photography. Our chatting evolved into a story-telling conversation about some of the most memorable bird photographs we had each shot in southeast Arizona. In hushed voices we commented on birds like Bridled Titmouse, Elegant Trogon, and Red-faced Warbler. Each bird with its own unique coloration, behavior and voice. We discussed our next target birds and what we especially hoped to photograph while we were at that spot.
Suddenly the quiet conversation was replaced by a chorus of rapid-fire shutter clicks from three different cameras, shooting 12 frames-per-second, at a Scott’s Oriole that perched right above us, in perfect light. “Wow” and “perfect shot” and “awesome” were unconsciously vocalized by the three bird photographers present. Click, click, click… This oriole was not a rare bird but was certainly a beautifully-colored bird.
The conversation turned back again to what our “target” bird subjects were. More birds were named, including Pyrrhuloxia, Lucifer Hummingbird, Rivoli’s Hummingbird, and Lazuli Bunting, but the primary bird of interest was the Montezuma Quail. The conversation again suddenly went silent as a Canyon Towhee emerged from the shadows and hoped towards us, eventually perching on a branch not 15 feet away. Again, the rapid-fire sputter of shutters erupted as we tried to catch the perfect shot. Click, click, click…
While the towhee was a very common bird to that spot and not particularly striking in appearance, it was a “life photograph” for me so I was especially excited. I asked the couple if they had photographed one before and they kind of chuckled and responded, “We have been here dozens of times and probably have hundreds of images of a Canyon Towhee.” I asked them if they would be disappointed if the Montezuma Quail was a no-show. The response simultaneously surprised me and comforted me. “We’re really just happy being here. If we walk away with good Canyon Towhee and Scott’s Oriole photos, it was worth it.”
“We’re really just happy being here. If we walk away with good Canyon Towhee and Scott’s Oriole photos, it was worth it.”
We talked about how our paths led to bird photography and agreed that we more closely aligned now with the title of “bird photographer” over “birder”. While we had started off as bird watchers, then birders/bird listers, we had evolved into bird photographers. Along the evolution from bird watcher to birders, we had also become nature enthusiasts and more knowledgeable about the interactions between all species in an ecosystem.
Conversation pauses as a Green-tailed Towhee pops in for a moment.
Click, click, click…
Our passions are centered more around capturing good images of birds in their natural settings, than in getting high species counts on a bird survey. Yes, we do bird surveys and are active in our local Audubon chapters. We all complete eBird checklists and carefully annotated numbers and descriptions, but we are most interested in getting a good image that tells a nature story about the bird and its environment.
The conversation again hushed as she quietly mentioned that a Pyrrhuloxia was calling. Soon, the bird landed on a fence line a ways off and gradually worked its way closer. Click, click, click…
As we were clicking away I heard the call of a Hooded Oriole and I managed to find it (a pair) and grabbed a shot or two before they flew away.
The husband then mentioned that a Western Tanager just called. We got on it and it landed right where the Scott’s Oriole had landed earlier. Click, click, click…
The activity was picking up and I heard the unmistakable sound (like a bumblebee) of a Lucifer Hummingbird behind us. Click, click, click…
A newly arrived pair of birders were happy to check off the Lucifers Hummingbird and then were off to their next target bird up Carr Canyon, barely staying at that location for 15 minutes. They had a list of birds to check off and time was running short.
In the end, it’s the enjoyment of the experience that feeds our souls, refreshes our minds and creates meaningful experiences to reflect on and share with others.
Over the course of the next three hours, birders and bird photographers came and went. Some staying 15 minutes and others, like myself, stayed for hours. Each one getting something different from their visit. I am reminded of the famous Indian fable, “The Blind Men and the Elephant” where the blind men learn that they were all partially correct and partially wrong. While one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. In the end, it’s the enjoyment of the experience that feeds our souls, refreshes our minds and creates meaningful experiences to reflect on and share with others.
8 thoughts on “Are you a Birder or Bird Photographer?”
Superb all around. Pyrruloxia and Green-tailed Towhee especially good for me. Fine, fine work.
Thanks Eric. I greatly appreciate your feedback.
Enjoyed this one! Great sightings and photos. Did you see and photograph the trogon and red-faced warbler during that visit? Am alerting a birding friend and magazine editor in Tucson of this unique location.
Red-faced Warbler shot was in Madera Canyon on the Carrie Nation Trail, same spot for the Trogon. The Bridled Titmouse was a little lower in the canyon at the Santa Rita Lodge. All other images were from the Ash Canyon B&B.
Definitely a good time for bird photography.
Thought provoking for me, as I personally value “any good” bird photograph over the numbers of birds sighted. I love the anticipation factor that “any bird” may appear in front of my camera at any time, when I spend enough time in the proper habitat! (Usually too much time:-)
My highlight of a birding trip, that usually occurs late at night when editing photos and I discover “a” special bird photo hiding among the many images taken, that is worthy of addition to my library.
I love your great shots of the Pyrrhuloxia, Green-tailed Towhee and Lucifer Hummingbird.
Thanks for your Blog, Richard Brown
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Wonderful narrative, Jim. Thanks for letting us in on this delightful conversation, and for sharing your marvelous photos!
Great summary of your trip. especially love the conversation about Birder vs Bird Photographers. When I am asked, I respond by saying, I am a birder who likes to take good photos of birds. I am so forunate to have moved to Arizona and enjoy chasing the rarities which seem to show up here quite often. Safe Travels on your next adventure. I am going with the John Sterling group to Argentina next month.
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