Speaking of Nature: 22,000 photos: An unexpected milestone

  • The jay on the left has turned to watch the effects of its arrival. One bird has taken flight and the bird on the right has kicked up a spray of seeds as it attempts to escape. This photo captures the joy that jays take in their mischievous attacks on one another. PHOTO BY BILL DANIELSON

For the Recorder
Published: 12/4/2022 3:00:29 PM
Modified: 12/4/2022 3:00:06 PM

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving and, once again, I was up early. The sunrise that morning was one of those spectacular events when the sky actually seemed to be the ceiling of a cave that was being lit from below. Joules Verne would have used such imagery in “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” and I was certain that if I could just get high enough I could actually touch the rock that seemed to hang above me. These sorts of fanciful thoughts point to the perils of recovering from a gravy-induced coma. Thanksgiving can exact a toll.

The house was quiet after a long family visit and once I was done taking photos of the sunrise I decided that I would make a pot of coffee and sit at my kitchen window where I could enjoy my wintertime pursuit of counting the birds at my feeders. This is not something I bother with in the warmer months because there are so many different species to draw me out of the house, but mornings with temperatures of 38 degrees Fahrenheit and no warblers are insufficient to draw me down to the Thinking Chair. No, it was time to transition to “winter mode.”

So I poured a mug of coffee, sat down at my small writing desk and began the process of preparing for an observation session. I needed to make a small data table on the margin of the day’s journal page and once that was accomplished I could turn my full attention to the little shapes that were beginning to appear on my deck. It didn’t take long for the hungry birds to arrive and then the morning’s action began.

Among the early arrivals was a small mob of blue jays and if you know anything about blue jays then you know that they are full of energy. More than any other bird that visits your feeders, blue jays will raise the energy level with their mere presence. However, if you can attract several blue jays you are in for a real treat. These birds all know one another and they seem to revel in competition. Who can get there first? Who can cause the greatest ruckus? Who can attack the others and “make them flinch?” Blue jays are the Hanson Brothers of the bird world.

So, it was impossible for me to resist an attempt to capture this chaotic mayhem on film (as it were). The light levels were low because once the sun had risen it was no longer illuminating the clouds from below, but attempting to illuminate the Earth through the clouds instead. Undeterred, I started aiming my lens at the blue jays standing on the railing and then snapping photos just as other jays swooped in at high speed and attempted to dislodge the others. It was hilarious to watch and I actually think that they took turns to see who could cause the greatest disturbance.

After one series of photos that seemed particularly promising I decided to review the photos to see if I had captured anything dramatic and in so doing I ended up discovering something unexpected and even more dramatic than the jays themselves. The frame counter indicated the number “2037.” This meant that I had somehow managed to pass the 22,000 mark without even realizing it. As I said earlier, gravy-induced comas can cause all sorts of crazy things to happen.

So I started moving backwards through the photos I had just taken and when I reached the 2,000 mark I found a wonderful photo of one blue jay causing a dust-up with two of its fellow jays. This is the photo that I share with you today and I like it for a couple of different reasons. First, there is the blurry quality of motion caught in an instant. You can see the energy and the chaos that the bird on the left has caused. One jay has taken flight and the jay on the right is attempting to dodge the new arrival.

This is particularly interesting to me because if you look at that jay’s foot you can see that it has kicked up a spray of seeds when its foot slipped. To me this looks exactly like the spray of snow that a hockey player produces when coming to a sudden stop. The Hanson Brothers were hockey players. It all fits.

This is a milestone event for me because it is the first time that I have ever reached 22,000 photos in a single year. But the remarkable thing is that I don’t know how I managed to get this far without realizing it. I do know that this has been one of the most challenging school years of my career, so I have probably been distracted. Now that the facts are clear, however, I think there is a chance that I might even be able to hit 23,000 photos before the year’s end. I don’t want to force the issue, but if the weather and the birds cooperate it might just happen. I’ll keep you posted.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 25 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.


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