As I shared with you last week, I find it interesting how hobby astrophotographers often develop a love for bird photography. Last week, I introduced you to one of my favorite astrophotographers by the name of Trevor Jones – AKA AstroBackyard. As I followed this passionate astrophotographer, I learned that Trevor and his wife Ashley Northcotte have a YouTube channel called “The Bird Nerds.” When I learned this, my first reaction was, “Kindred spirits!” However, the more I followed different astrophotographers, I began to realize that many imagers of the stars have a passion for bird photography. Given my curious soul, I’ve been wondering, “Why is that?”
If I didn’t have a day assignment, I’d happily reach out to these astrophotographers to see if I could interview them to learn a little bit about our common interests. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of time. What I can do, however, is share my thoughts on why I have a passion for both astro and bird photography.
Observation 1: Practical – I’ve made an investment in a nice telescope and telephoto camera lens, so I want to get my money’s worth.
Personally, I’m someone who gets frustrated with myself when I feel that I waste money. Therefore, having a telescope and a nice telephoto camera lens forces me to think – How else can I use this? I think the business aspect of astronomy understands this too since most entry level telescopes are advertised as “bird watching telescopes.” Truth be told, just about any consumer telescope can be used for either birds or stars.
Observation 2: Curiosity – I want to be able to see things that are hard to see. I want to bring what is distant closer to me.
One of the joys I find in both astro and bird photography is the ability to experience a moment in nature and then find out how my camera processed the moment. It is frequent in bird photography that I take a picture of a bird I think is doing nothing only to realize that they are eating a bug or investigating something they pulled out of a tree. Its not that our eyes “trick” us, but our eyes aren’t always the best at taking in the whole experience.
The same is true with astrophotography. When I find a quiet place to set up my camera, I end up with a lot of time to reflect, pray, and think. The images I take range from 15 second to 2 minute exposures, providing me with some healthy “wait time” for the sensor to finish gathering its photons. When I get home, I enjoy the opportunity to see what I captured, but also look for the things my eyes didn’t see. I always love seeing the pinks of the Orion Nebula after I put my images on my computer. They are colors my eyes never see, but are prominent through a different mode of seeing.
Observation 3: Rarities – Once in a lifetime moments.
In the bird community, there’s the desire to look for what are called “lifers.” These birds are either rare to an area or rare as a species. For example, the Tufted Titmouse is rather common in the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but is seldom seen in other areas of the United States. Some people will travel many miles to see what frequently visits my bird feeder. It reminds me to not take for granted the visitors outside my office window – What’s common for me may not be common for someone else.
The other treasure “birders” look for are near-threatened, threaten, or endangered species. Outside of town, there’s a place where a pair of Redheaded Woodpeckers nest. Their numbers have been going down from year to year as clear cutting is doing away with their habitat. Of the many woodpeckers I’ve seen over the years, the stately nature of the Red Headed Woodpecker easily evokes the desire in the observer to protect this small treasure.
Astronomy has its rarities as well. Whether it be the common and easily predicted lunar eclipse, the more rare and stunning solar eclipse, or the once in a lifetime visitor of a comet, the astrophotographer relishes the opportunity to image a sacred moment that is truly once in a lifetime.
Conclusion: There Is No Conclusion.
Lastly, one of the great things about both astrophotography and bird photography is that it’s always different. Yes, there are “seasons” for celestial objects and predictable migration patterns for birds, but amid those consistencies there is also a diversity of experience. It’s amazing that some birds are so consistent in their migration that they will return to the same nest and same branch year after year. This attention to long distant detail makes me wonder why the phrase “bird brain” was often used as a put down for someone perceived to be less intelligent. If I didn’t have a map or GPS, I’d be lost!
Astrophotography and bird photography never get old and they never come to a logical conclusion. In some ways, it’s like the Catholic Mass. “Father, do you get tired celebrating the same thing Sunday after Sunday?” Absolutely not! Even though the patterns and rhythms of the Mass remain the same, the readings, preparation, prayer, and communal experience always give me a new perspective. To say it another way, there really isn’t a “conclusion” to the Mass. Instead, its part of lived experience that deepens and expands with God’s grace.
Spiritual Exercise: What are the things that evoke a passion in you from our created world? What are points of connection you can find between what you observe, contemplate, feel, and reflect upon? Pray with that today and engage in the process of contemplating the beauty of God’s creation.
Something I would love to study, but don’t have the time to do so is the connection between stars and bird migration patterns. Here’s a video that reflects on this connection.