May 01, 2017

Birding Without Binoculars

When in search of birds, most people will trek out to a grove of trees or a golf course or a body of water with a pair of binoculars slung around their necks.

These days, I've been seeing more and more birders lugging around tripod-mounted spotting scopes, too.

But not me.

I prefer to take in the full swath of scenery with my naked eyes.

I even take my sunglasses off.

I've tried developing my binocular vision, but when everything is so magnified, I can't ever find anything.

I wouldn't know to point my optics to the spot where I'd find a black-necked stilt, even if I knew to look for it, and even though it's fairly common around the "Important Bird Area" of Owens Lake in the spring season.

I wouldn't catch two white-faced ibis flying by, unless I could employ the entire field of view of my eyeballs—including my peripheral vision. If I could train each of my eyes to function independently of one another and see different things, I would.

But since evolution didn't bestow monocular vision on me, the key instead is to know how to spot what might be a bird—like an eared grebe in the water, or a California gull in the sky—and pull in for a close-up with my camera.

That way, I actually see more birds—sandpipers, yellowlegs, avocets—and I get to keep a physical, visual record of what I've seen.

Sure, maybe I could see them more clearly and thoroughly through a scope.

But on a day like Saturday—during the Owens Lake Bird Festival and in wind gusts of 20 mph—the camera between my two hands, its strap pressed against the back of my neck, was steadier than any freestanding scope.

And some of those swirling birds had to be seen without an artificial lens to be believed...

...those shape-shifter shorebirds that swarmed the shallow surface of the not-quite-dry Owens Lake, spooked by something, in search of something, rising and falling like tides blown by the wind.

One moment they'd look black, and another white.

If I hadn't captured these photos, I might've thought I'd dreamt it, or that it was a mirage. After all, Owens Lake isn't always a lake. The Sierras aren't always topped with snow. And so, the migrating birds don't always come.

But when they do, I don't want to miss them by looking too closely in the wrong spot.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom
Photo Essay: Birding the Channel Islands
Photo Essay: The Shape-Shifting Island of Seagulls
Photo Essay: Hatchlings In the Marsh

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