To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them…Elliott Erwitt
How many Americans watch birds? How many Americans care to know how many Americans watch birds? More importantly, at least for this essay, how many Americans photograph birds and wildlife, and, in general, nature?
The Outdoor Foundation, in its annual Outdoor Participation Report, estimated that around 14 million Americans watched birds in 2013. That number, around 4.9% of the population age 6 and older, has been relatively stable since 2007.
Originally limited to the Channel Islands, the sedentary race of Allen’s hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin sedentarius, has spread to the California mainland. The bird is now found throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties. The introduction of winter-blooming plants such as cape honeysuckle and winter-blooming eucalyptus is thought to have facilitated the spread. I photographed this pair of Allen’s 27 Dec 2014 at the Orange County Museum of Art. They are presumed to be the sedentary race (S.s. sedentarius).
Few birds hug the coast closer than the reddish egret. This is a salt bird, one never far away from the Gulf of Mexico. A few young birds wander inland in the late summer, but they are the outliers (in truth, they are lost).
The reddish egret almost disappeared from our coasts. Plume hunters in the late 1800s slaughtered heron and egrets by the thousands so that women of fashion could have feathers to festoon their heads. This egret did disappear from Florida until 1937, and even today the population is estimated to be only 10% of what existed before the blood bath.
A snowy egret isn’t a rare bird. Nowhere along the Texas coast is this bird difficult to see. Snowy egrets are background birds.
Photographs of snowy egrets aren’t rare, either. Egrets are large, gregarious, and easy to see and photograph. New bird photographers, once they have disposed of the birds in the yard, often move on to heron, egrets, and other long-legged waders.
Bees are in trouble. According to the USDA, “total losses of managed honey bee colonies nationwide were 31.1 percent from all causes for the 2012/2013 winter, according to the annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”
The recent rains have rejuvenated the prairie. We have been without significant rain for over five years. In drought you forget how green this world can be. You only know dry, parched, dusty, and decolored landscapes.
The coastal prairie is particularly wet. Water moves across this flat land as sheet flow. Houston is 50 miles from Galveston; Houston altitude is 49 feet above sea level. In other words, the land rises about 1 foot per mile moving inland from the Gulf of Mexico. This is a perfect landscape for wet prairie.
A blue norther swept through town last night, plunging temperatures 50 degrees F and sending me and my neighbors into a full-bore, pipe-wrapping panic. We don’t do cold in Austin. We can suffer weeks of 105°F (40°C) in summer without a gripe, but when the temperature drops below 70°F (21°C) there is no end to our bitching. At the first mention of ice (ICE!) any pretense of control is tossed. We are winter wimps.
Sparrows are an acquired taste (to watch, not to consume). Most birders prefer the pimped out warblers, tanagers, orioles, and their kind. Warblers are gaudy; sparrows are dreary.
Dull sparrows live in dull habitats. They are dull for a reason. A grassland sparrow such as the savannah dresses like grass. Brown, beige, tan, and ocher are a sparrow’s palette. Forget the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of a warbler for a grassland bird. Bright in a forest gets you a mate and a territory; bright in a grassland gets you eaten.
All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
We, the citizens of the United States of America, officially give thanks for our blessings each year on the fourth Thursday in November. We give thanks for loving families, congenial friends, a world at peace, and for happiness (as in Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness”). We gather to celebrate a bountiful harvest and a promising future.
A recent discussion about a new shorebird conservation strategy for the Caribbean, and the debate about the respective roles of the natural and social sciences in such a “business” strategy, is apropos beyond this argument of the moment. The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has contributed its portion of a draconian budget that will be used in negotiations with the Obama administration. The Republican-led committee has made no effort to hide the most significant assaults on conservation and environmental protection programs in the past four decades. Here are a few of the cuts that are being proposed.