November 19, 2023
Note: Most of the pictures in this post were taken on earlier picture walks
I was sitting in my favorite chair at 5 a.m. on this cold November morning, enjoying a toasty fire, drinking a hot cup of tea, and contemplating the day ahead. Every once in a while, I’d look out the window to see if the sun had come up.
By 7:45, I could see just a hint of light on the very top of the trees along the far side of the creek behind our house. I wrestled with my choices for the day– stay warm and cozy inside the house, or go out into the cold November air and take pictures. The conditions were perfect: early morning light, no wind, and clear skies. I thought maybe a northern shoveler would unexpectedly drop by, or that a few wood ducks might swim out from the reeds as they sometimes do, or that a great blue heron would be scouting for fish along the opposite bank. I might even see a rare mink scurrying by. Anything was possible!
There was no choice, really; whether to stay inside or to go outdoors. The morning light beckoned. It would be impossible for me to stay home on such a beautiful day! There was such promise in the air! But, it was only 32 degrees! I wasn’t ready to face the cold! And getting dressed would be a challenge– because cold weather photography, where I might not move for hours on end, takes careful planning. Should I wear two layers or three? Do I need mittens or gloves? Boots or shoes? There were too many decisions to be made this early in the morning!
By 8:15, though, I was out the door. The sun had risen a little higher in the sky, the water in the creek was perfectly still, and I planted myself in the very best spot I could find where the sun would be at my back.
I stood quietly and waited. The squirrels were scampering through the leaves behind me and running across the branches overhead. Now and then, I’d hear a red-bellied woodpecker tapping on one of the nearby trees. A handful of birds were greeting the new day with their joyful song while a solitary goose flew by.
Not far from where I was standing, I could hear the familiar sound of the male red-winged blackbirds as they flitted among the cattails. They have a short, one-second song that starts with an abrupt note and turns into a musical trill. The females usually respond to the singing males with a chit-chit-chit sound, but I never heard their replies. Perhaps, the females have already flown south for the winter.
After about an hour of standing and waiting, I took a seat on the bench next to me; my hopes slowly dwindling. There had been no signs of any shovelers, wood ducks, or herons. I would have been happy at that point if even a mallard had floated by!
Eventually, the cold air settled into my bones, and I had run out of things to talk to myself about. I tried, instead, to concentrate on all the different birds I could see or hear in the trees around me, like the chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers, sparrows, and blue jays. They provided a symphony of songs and a bit of entertainment as I sat watching for the elusive ducks and herons to appear on the creek.
By 9:30, I was ready to throw in the towel and go for a walk in the sun so I could soak up some of its warmth. Before leaving my temporary roost, though, I moved closer to a nearby bush where I had been watching the cedar waxwings gobbling up berries, hoping I could maybe get a picture of them! With all the foliage obstructing my view, it was more of a challenge than I expected!
After managing to get a few waxwing shots (and one fat robin), it was time to move on to more promising grounds. I headed over to the business park next door thinking I would find a red-tailed hawk, a migrating duck, or maybe even a bluebird. All I found were pigeons.
Where was everybody??
It was almost noon and the temperature had climbed from a chilly 32 degrees to a toasty 50. I was so HOT! I had taken off my hat, mittens, and scarf and stuffed them into the pockets of my coat; the pockets that were already jammed full with two rechargeable hand-warmers, one cell phone, and a set of keys. Eventually I had to take off the coat as well and tie it around my waist or I would totally disintegrate from the heat! It was time to head home.
In the end, I didn’t have much to show for all my efforts: no wood ducks, no hawks, no shovelers, no mallards. It’s always disappointing when this happens, but I just can’t force the birds to show up when I want them to– or to get them to sit still in the right light while I adjust my settings.
On a particularly slow picture day, like this one, I have to remind myself that the most important thing is the walk itself, not the pictures. At my age (76), spending the day outdoors traipsing about is a gift; one that I treasure. Having my camera along, just makes all that exercise more interesting.
And that’s what keeps me going out the door–even on the least promising of days.