Speaking of Nature: Closing in on 20K

  • This male chestnut-sided warbler came out of hiding to pose for photo number 5,000. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BILL DANIELSON

Published: 11/17/2020 8:20:23 AM

Every year, I set a personal goal for myself. To ensure that I am an active photographer throughout the entire year, I strive to reach a total of 20,000 photographs that feature nature, the environment, or something to do with the outside world. Rainbows and lightning count, but photos of friends and family don’t. Flowers and birds count, but classic cars and city skylines don’t. You get the idea.

I have always understood that photos are easier to take during the summertime because there is more to look at and I have a lot more time to spend looking. The problem is that the summertime is so much shorter than the rest of the year. If I hit an average of 1,000 photos per month that only gets me to 12,000 total, which leaves the additional 8,000 to be taken in just 3-4 months. So it turns out that actually reaching my self-imposed goal is a bit of a challenge.

The first time I reached 20K was in 2011. My beautiful wife, Susan, and I took a cruise to the Bahamas in February and I went crazy with the photos. The rest of that year was fairly normal and I took a last-minute trip to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge to push me over the edge. I actually wrote an entire column about it, but that was 10 years ago so I don’t blame you for not remembering.

The second time I reached 20K was in 2014. That was the year that Susan and I took a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard — best vacation of all time, by the way. We found a house with no internet signal and intentionally cut ourselves off from the outside world. It was one of those stretches in August when one perfect day was followed by another and I got up every single morning and went out and soaked it all up. Even with all of that opportunity, however, I still only squeaked across the finish line in December.

Well, it should come as no surprise that this year has been a good year for photography. I’ve been home a lot and I could get out and take photos when I would normally have been driving to work. A two-week trip out to Cape Cod helped me rack up a few extra photos, but it rained a lot so I didn’t put too much of a dent in the extra 8,000 I needed.

In the end, I think this will go down as the “Year of the Thinking Chair.” I spent a lot of time down at the edge of my meadow and, back in October, I shocked myself by reaching 19K photos without even realizing it. Again, there was the advantage that I was still at home every day because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following week, we went back to school for in-person learning and I’ve been stuck at 19K since.

So I thought I might share one of the photos that represented a milestone in my quest for 20K. I was in the Thinking Chair. It was a beautiful morning in May and I was putting in some quality time in nature before remote classes started. I was soaking up the fresh air and the warmth of the sun when I suddenly heard a song that I had been straining to hear for years. It was a chestnut-sided warbler.

I have the perfect habitat for these birds, but year after year went by without me detecting even the slightest hint of one. I was puzzled beyond reason. Why would such ideal real estate go unclaimed for such a long period of time? Well, this year the dearth was broken. I heard the song, I played a recording on my phone as loud as the volume would go and WHAM! The little guy came out of hiding and he was spoiling for a fight. My camera was blazing away as he searched for his enemy and I hit 5,000 photos right then and there.

As often happens, Photo 5,000 wasn’t a perfect image of the bird. Photo 4,994, on the other hand, was especially outstanding, but you will have to wait until next year to see it. So much was happening in May that I somehow forgot to tell the story of my encounter with this magnificent little bird and I think I’ll leave it that way until next May. I already have the species penciled in on my calendar and as soon as one shows up I will release the whole package.

I only have about 750 photos to go to reach my goal and the holidays always help me in this endeavor. So, by Dec. 31 I may even be knocking at the door of 21K. I’ll be sure to include the final count in my review of 2020. Until then, there is still a lot of time to spend outside and I hope you get to log a few quality hours in nature yourself.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 23 years and he is about to hit the 20K mark for only the third time in his career. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.


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