I bought a camera from my sister in late 2011 after she upgraded and moved on to a more complicated model. Cameras are typically not difficult to operate, but I quickly figured out that her cast-off had more bells and whistles than I’d ever be able to learn how to use. I tried to sit down with the owner’s manual (and the corresponding “book for Dummies”) a few times, but after my eyes glazed over after a couple of pages, I knew I needed a discipline in order to make it more of a “hands on” learning experience. Enter the backyard birds. I thought that if I forced myself to take at least one photograph of a bird a day, I would slowly pick up the skills I was looking for—quick, manual focusing with the lens; deeper understanding of good lighting; exposure; framing a photo; better grasp of photo editing; and so on. With such a ready cast of subjects, it seemed like a simple undertaking. I mean, seriously… can you think of a day when you haven’t seen at least one bird either flying overhead or pecking through your yard? That, I figured, is all I’d need, and I began on January 2, 2012.
|Cooper's Hawk, January 14|
|Pileated Woodpecker, February 4|
|Eastern Phoebe, August 20|
I did, however, crack the cover of my bird book very often. Over the course of the project, I began to notice that my eyes were being opened to other things than just learning a piece of technology. Other than the sense of accomplishment one typically feels when they finish out a whole year of some type of discipline, I also have a much, much greater appreciation of—you guessed it—the birds that live around me and their habitats. I’ve been a self-confessed “bird freak” since my early years of elementary school when I wrote to the Governor of North Carolina (Jim Hunt at the time) and requested him to declare a holiday for birds (He graciously consented, and May 24 is Bird Day in my home state, whether or not my family members choose to believe it). I’ve also memorized countless bird guides and participated in a few Audubon Society bird counts, but this year provided the opportunity to expand and hone my bird identification skills like never before.
|Red-winged Blackbird, July 9|
|Gray Catbird, June 5|
|Painted Bunting, July14|
|American Redstart, September 18|
I also picked up the knack of knowing where certain species liked to hang out. This is a biggie in the world of birding. Look up high—very high!—for the vireos and tanagers. Look down low for most of the sparrows. Venture around the edge of a pond in the summer or fall and you will probably run across a Yellowthroat. Eastern Bluebirds love suburbia. On some level I already knew most of these “rules,” but the knowledge gained after repeated, daily practice is so much more useful than what is gained from reading a book. It’s like my semesters of field education in seminary…except this time I was in a real field.
|Ruby-throated Hummingbird, August 26|
The total tally for the dailyvogel project was 90 different species, and I know I saw even more than that. I never even got a photograph, for example, of the species I probably saw more than any else: the ubiquitous pigeon (or Rock Dove, Columba livia). What amazed me was the sheer diversity right around me. Of those 90, 57 were spotted either in my own backyard or were readily visible from it (Canada Geese, to my knowledge, never actually landed in my yard, but they did fly high overhead, and so they still count!). An additional fifteen or so species were seen in one of the parks within two miles from my house. If someone had told me at the start of this project that I would see almost sixty species of birds from my own backyard, I wouldn’t have believed them. But my photographs are proof. They’ve been right here the whole time—hidden in plain view, as they say.
|Red-shouldered Hawk, November 9|
I suppose that is essentially what I take from this dailyvogel project. I picked up a lot of interesting things, but now that it's over I find myself mainly reflecting on how it took a year of daily discipline (and patience, too, especially from my wife) for me to appreciate the offerings of avian life on display in my own immediate surroundings, as ordinary as those surroundings may be. Is it not so with all of God’s blessings and acts of deliverance, the memories of which often just flicker in the distance as we obsess over the latest thing directly in front of us? If we were to pause through things like regular worship, prayer, and Bible study and take the time to be aware to the ways in which God can—and does—pop up here, there and everywhere, providing for us each and every moment, might we be amazed at how many we could identify? And how might these recollections—these rolling tumblr posts of grace, if you will—buoy us in times of sadness? Surprise and giddy joy are not my only reactions to the results of my big bird year; like in the case of the psalmist, thankfulness abounds. As I put down my camera from this daily discipline, I pray I can then dust off the inner eyes of my heart to see the activity of a loving Creator who grants us all quite an abundant and big life.
|White-throated Sparrow, December 6|