Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Q: Why "Aviphilia"? A: Because it's there.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” – Howard Thurman

Derived from Latin and Greek words, aves (L - birds) and philia (Gr - affinity for), this blog's name is it's purpose. Here I'll share the passion, and admitted obsession, I have for all avian life. A whole lot in this world fascinates me, but nothing lights my fire more than studying birds and sharing that with anyone who'll listen.

The banner image is of male and female Bufflehead (Bucephala albeolis) I photographed at the St. Louis Zoo this spring. I'd seen thousands of these little guys before, but that experience proved one of the most profound I've had in my fifteen year birding career. Ironically, i
t took a hairpin turn in a path, after a footbridge, for me to even notice them.

I was strolling through the famous flyway-cage aviary built especially for the 1904 World's Fair. Not four feet from the bridge a strategically-placed log straddled bank and pond. On it sat four Bufflehead, three females, one male. All my previous experiences
with these birds were on water surfaces measuring in hectares. If I wanted even the chance of a good look, I needed an expensive spotting scope - set at 40-50X magnification. Now, here I was literally within arm's length of four! For several seconds I stood, frozen, dumbfounded. For those moments I actually denied what I was looking at. These weren't the black and white, clownish and toy-like diving ducks I was used to. These were entirely different species altogether! They certainly weren't toys. They were real, really real - almost too real. Plumages - a Flemish still life of incredibly nuanced browns, grays, whites. The male sporting a veritable rainbow of muted colors in his head feathers.

It took significant effort to contain my elation enough to compose a picture as best I could, given that all I had to take a picture with was an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera. Lighting conditions considered, buttons pushed, I very slowly squatted into a kneeling position on the bank and began taking photos. I purposely did not start with a flash, as I wanted to see how the birds would respond to my initial presence. At my closest, the camera and my hands were no more than four feet away. Apparently, the birds were actually sleeping - despite all the foot traffic and noisy youngsters just feet away. I guess the sounds of the camera, or my body, crossed into their bubble, as two of the females popped off the log into the water. The pair left behind was much more comfortable with me - so much so that what you cannot see in this picture is that the male is stretching out both his wing and his foot, while still on the log. After indulging me that rarest of rare photo ops, they too popped into the water and out of sight.

The denoument saw me processing the experience. This wasn't just a "cool" trip to the zoo. If anything, it was they who had visited me, more than the other way around. Though the environment and scenario were about as contrived as possible (we were both in a cage, in a man-made swamp), it somehow made for an intimacy I'd rarely acheived with any wild bird species before. Curiouser and curioser.