Oh, shoot! Birds! (#31days)

Owls, falcons, and hawks!

We had a great time at the Royal Gauntlet today. I even managed to get a couple of awesome slow motion videos on my iPhone 6 Plus. Be sure to scroll through to see a few of the highlights. Much, much more coming.

For the videos, YouTube is showing them at a lower resolution by default. Crank it up to 720p. It’s pretty incredible.

 

 

 

Any other name

Spring is springing. This is Oklahoma, so it hasn’t fully “sprung” yet, but it’s springing. This is a great time of year because birds are returning but the leaves haven’t. I’ve already been delightfully and repeatedly serenaded by one of my favorites. The mockingbird.Curiousity

The poor mockingbird. It has a beautiful voice but no song of its own. Even its name evokes feelings of shame. Nobody like a mocker. The fact that they are pretty common makes them even less special.

But have you ever seen the beautiful white flash of a mockingbird’s wings in flight? Have you ever had one hop a little closer to you in order to size you up? Although not colorful, they are beautiful. Although not endangered, they are special. Their curiosity is charming. It’s also handy for someone new to bird photography.

What if the mockingbird does has a voice of its own, though? Instead of bragging about himself, he’s telling us about all the incredible things he has seen. He’s saying:

Hey! You! You beautiful but wingless creation! Listen up!

I saw an awesome bird yesterday. It was a brilliant red color. Let me tell you how it sounds!

Oh, did you see that Chickadee? Aren’t those cute little birds?

Hey, have you heard the frogs croaking? They’re pretty awesome.

Mocking? No, not at all. Proclaiming. Proclaiming the beauty that can be found in the world when you pause a moment and look around.

Shooting Birds of Prey

I was recently fortunate enough to attend a photo shoot with a few gorgeous birds and the Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I have about 70 pictures that I consider worthy of sharing, but here are a few of my favorites.

These birds include a Tundra Peregrine Falcon (my favorite), a couple of Harris Hawks, a Red Tailed Hawk (just the talons pictured here), and a Eurasion Eagle Owl. All pictures are with my trusty and versatile Canon SX50 HS.

God, the meaning of life, and an osprey

On the hunt

A few weeks ago I went for a walk in the Arkansas River. The water was low and the sun was bright. I was hoping to catch some new or unique birds hunting for a snack. Maybe a Bald Eagle soaring overhead. At the very least a Heron or Egret.

But there was nothing. I spent a couple of hours walking down the middle of the river with nothing to show but a bit of sand in my shoes. It was a lovely but fruitless walk.

All too often, that’s how God seems. We set out looking for Him, trudging through shifting sand and squinting into the sun. Looking for a path. Looking for a sign. Unlike my feathered friends, we know that God wants to be found. He wants us to be with Him. So why can He be so elusive? Why do we return to the safety of our shelter with nothing but a few bits of sand and a slight sunburn?

On Sunday mornings we’ve been learning about the potential, purpose, and plan that God has put into each of our lives. A lot of us are really wrestling with the idea. Realizing that God has set aside a specific work for you to do, that He has orchestrated a plan for you to accomplish it, and He actually created you with the abilities to do it can be overwhelming. Many of us feel a sense of pressure…a weight. What if we fail? What if we miss it?

My trusty Canon SX50-HS and I spend a lot of time wandering around outside, hoping to run into something unique and cool. Preferably something that won’t eat us. Birds are pretty safe. So are sunsets. I’ve only been doing this for about a year but I’ve already captured thousands of different birds. Some of the pictures are even pretty good.

Soaring

I recently wandered down to the lake to see what was fishing. With no idea what would be there, I was hoping for a unique duck or maybe a Great Blue Heron. It was a nice walk with my lovely wife, my oldest son, and my dog. Right as we were about to head back, a new visitor arrived. An Osprey flew over, making multiple passes while soaring beautifully. After putting on quite a show, it dove into the water, emerging with a yummy snack. It isn’t the most graceful fisher I’ve ever seen, but it shook off the excess water and then flew away to enjoy the treat.

It would seem that I was in the right place at the right time. I also had the right equipment to capture the moment. Is that they key to unlocking that elusive potential, purpose and plan? Is that the key to hearing from God? I can’t control God any more than I can control that silly Osprey. God will show up when He wants to.

In our spiritual lives, what can we do to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment so that when God shows up, we’re ready? I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent walking by that lake without seeing anything spectacular. But I kept coming back. And I stayed prepared. I keep exploring that camera…learning how to better use the equipment that I’ve been given.

My potential is like that camera. God gave it to me, but I’ve got to exercise it. I’ve got to learn to use it and develop it in order to be ready for what God has planned.

Got it

My purpose is like these shots. I use my potential to make a difference. Maybe the metaphor gets less clear here. But I’m simply using what I’ve been given to perform an action. The results can be amazing. Just like when we use what God has given us.

The plan is from God. That’s the providential experience that brings it all together to make something truly special. The Osprey flying straight at me in the perfect light. Me instinctively twisting the settings button over a couple of clicks to catch the majestic bird in flight. That’s how God shows up. Suddenly, spectacularly, and majestically. It’s not something you miss, but it’s something you’ve got to be prepared for.

Understanding that we have potential, purpose, and plan in our lives that are from God shouldn’t increase our burden. It should ease it. That’s what God promised us. It isn’t up to us to make it happen. It’s up to us to trust Him. It’s up to us to lean into Him. If we continue to position ourselves in the right place, He will make everything clear at the right time.

Brothers, Bug-bites, and Buntings

Another trip to Texas, another great adventure. I was joined on this adventure by Duke (my dad) and my two boys. Duke took on the role of trail guide and walking bird encyclopedia while I did a lot of spotting and shooting (with my camera). The boys were intrepid and fearless adventures.
At the crack of (vacation) dawn (9ish), we headed to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. Duke had already scouted it out, having been here to do some volunteer bird-banding. Along the road we saw swallows, hawks, and quite a few vultures. As we parked, a great egret flew overhead, eager to see if the fishermen on the river below were catching anything interesting.
We headed along the trails and boardwalks, looking for adventure, wildlife, and maybe even a unique bird or two. For some reason, I was expecting a relatively tame terrain. I typically do my birding in my backyard, the local (well-groomed) soccer fields, along the pedestrian path by the local lake, or in the winter when the bugs and branches aren’t abundant. This was not any of that. Jeans and boots would’ve been much more appropriate than my shorts and tennis shoes. Oh, well. Onward!
The trail was easy to follow and not a bad hike at all. As we went deeper, the trail narrowed. Much of the area is marsh…which in Texas means bugs. Bugs mean bites, but it also means birds! We came across some experienced birders that were resting on a boardwalk, listening to a bob-white and watching a couple of eastern phoebes snatch snacks off the surface of the marsh. 
All in all it was a great hike. My GPS said we went a little over 2 miles (we went out and back, not the longer loop). We saw Egrets, Eastern Phoebes, Indigo Buntings, a kingfisher, red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, a red bellied woodpecker, snakes, dragon flies, fire ants, fuzzy caterpillars, and four other birders.
Fuzzy caterpillar on the boardwalk
Oh, but the highlight of the day…  We were walking along the boardwalk when Duke pulled out the Audubon Bird App on his iPhone. He started playing the song of the painted bunting. Very quickly, one flew down and started landing on the branches all around us. It wouldn’t stay in any one place very long, but I was able to snap a few pictures of it. It ended up landing on a branch in very plain view and just called out to the app. I don’t know if it was looking for a friend, a rival, or a mate, but it gave us a lot to listen to and look at! Check out a few of the pictures below.

Definitely worth every bump and itch.

Still wild

I’ve had this camera for a little over three months. That translates to over 8,000 pictures. Carolina chickadees to great blue herons. Eastern bluebirds to bald eagles. Sunsets, skylines, sunrises. Squirrels, dogs, and beavers. Monster trucks. People. Lots of people. And an endless amount of fun.

My oldest son just bought himself a camera. By watching him this week I’ve noticed how putting a camera in your hands can turn you into an explorer. The world looks different. Perspectives shift as the next great opportunity is eagerly sought out around the next corner or behind the next tree.

My younger son gleefully points out cardinals, tufted titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers. These frequent visitors to our back yard have brought endless hours of joy. Watching their playful antics brings a childlike wonder back to life. The secret is to slow down enough to notice them.

The weather is changing. Winter is stubbornly clinging to Northern Oklahoma, but her grip is tenuous. We’re starting to see goldfinches for the first time, which is glorious. As the fishermen and children return to the lake, the hawks are becoming more shy. Hopefully the downey woodpeckers will stick around for a while. The seasons may be changing, but there always seems to be something wonderful out there. You just need to take a look. It’s wild.