Backyard birding vs wilderness
July 12, 2011

As many people know, a convenient way to begin birding is to observe straight from the backyard. My views come from urban/suburban landscapes that feature tiny backyards, if any at all. Birding from within the city is definitely not a replacement for experiencing nature and the wildlife within, but is a more accessible alternative to explore. From the comfort of home, there is no need for blinds, mosquito repellent, bear pepper spray, binoculars or even patience, although a feeder would be helpful to suffice this lattermost item. Most times, the birds that arrive in the neighborhood are accustomed to human presence in close proximity, and provided with seeds or nectar, tend to stay and nest. Here, there are a few notable nesting residents including mourning doves and hummingbirds, and other guests such as finches and hawks.

Having said all this, I have had little success photographing birds in my backyard. I blame this mostly on the lack of motivation and thus a lack of effort. Watching birds from the window or within the garden always seems more appealing than running around the house trying to setup the camera and risk missing the chance to take a closer look. More importantly, however, the scene just seems false and incorrect in a photograph, alike performing classical music at a reception where no one listens, or painting a piece knowing it will sit unseen behind the door in a bathroom. Of course, there's something to be said about creating art for yourself, but even then, at least for me, this would only raise the bar higher. The real problem is that the urban environment leaves traces of unnatural elements in the background, buildings, walls, bird feeders, and even straight lines, that detract from the aura of the subject.

I would prefer to photograph birds in the natural environment, the original one minus the houses, gas stations, supermarkets, etc. For example, in the northeast I watched a bald eagle soar overhead, but I chose not to photograph it simply because it was nobly gracing the skies over a parking lot. There are exceptions, of course, like if a red-crowned parrot landed in a neighboring tree (although realistically it would be more like twenty parrots raising a raucous in the neighborhood) I would get the camera, not for art or expression, but for documentation.

Our wilderness is shrinking quickly, and it would be a shame to not enjoy nature before it is gone. To simply watch birds from within city limits is to settle for mediocrity, like photographing animals in a zoo and considering it wildlife. I encourage everyone to adventure into the countryside, away from human influences, to support national and state parks in their efforts to preserve the outdoors, and finally to experience nature in the pure way it has been offered.