80 Minutes with One Bird?
Why, or how could you spend that much time photographing one bird? Wouldn’t it just fly away? And if it didn’t, wouldn’t you just get all the pictures you wanted in 5 minutes? No and no. Let me explain. We don’t live where there are roadrunners, but we have traveled to roadrunner territory on a number of occasions. I got this satisfying shot
of a roadrunner 6 years ago, and hadn’t gotten close since. So roadrunner was definitely on the photographic menu. Janet didn’t have a single usable photo, and hadn’t ever even gotten a good look at one.
That is, until our Southern California trip last month. We had had a disappointing time looking for birds at the Salton Sea, a saline lake slowly drying out, so we headed to Palm Desert for civilization and a decent motel. Janet noticed some birding reports from a small park in Palm Desert. We decided to visit for a bit before dinner time. 5 acres, 2 in grass and three in desert scrub comprised the entire park. At our assigned rendezvous time, Janet didn’t appear, so I went looking for her. Finding her shortly, she started to describe a brief, unsatisfying encounter with a roadrunner when my jaw dropped and I pointed. The roadrunner hopped in to view 20 feet away!
This bird was hunting, and not too concerned about humans (this was, after all, a city park). It would dash behind a bush, and we would run along parallel to it, trying to guess which side of the bush it would come out of. Always staying about 30 feet away (except for the few times it ran toward us having spotted possible prey our direction), we criss-crossed the desert part of the park a dozen times as the roadrunner occasionally gobbled up some insects, leapt on rocks for a better view,
or twice, leaping 7 feet in a single vertical jump to get in to a tree for another vantage point.
The crest went up and down, the tail raised and lowered, signals of its internal state too opaque to decipher. We kept trying more shots because 1) We don’t know what will come out from a fast moving bird until later, 2) It’s hard to compose the background when you’re chasing a bird like we were, so we took lots hoping a few would not have sticks running through the birds head, 3) We wanted to get crest-up (or maybe down),
tail-up (or maybe down) and red spot behind eye visible (best seen when it turned away from us, which made getting a complete photo difficult). Also, we kept trying because the bird cooperated, reappearing frequently, never seeming too disturbed by our presence. Since it kept posing, we kept shooting, until finally, light fading, we lost track of it. .
You would have been entranced, too. Picture yourself giggling with glee and getting sand in your shoes.
Thanks for reading.