‘Tis true, we photograph birds for a range of reasons.
Technical, to study details
Recognition: to identify a new bird
Artistically: to give the bird a feeling in space and place
For the joy of it: Just being there and enjoying the time
And a whole host of others.
But it must be said, that when a bird we are watching opens its wings and takes to the air, our sense of wonder kicks in.
Down through the centuries, mankind has looked, watched studied and envied birds.
We can study aeronautics, and ornithology, grasp the technicalities of lift and drag, and the hundreds of other calculations that even the tiniest sparrow makes every moment, be able to talk of feather detail, muscle application and any other important flight theory, yet, on what seems to me, to be a mere whim, that tiny sparrow flies effortlessly from my fence top!
In his book on raptors of Australia, Dr David Hollands says, “Wind! It affects every part of the bird’s lives. They live on plains that are by nature windy. They are hatched in wind, they are reared in the wind. They hunt in the most open and windy places…”
Watching small birds like Red-necked Stints, its hard to grasp how 40gm can fly 10,000 km on a return journey. How a hummingbird can navigate the length of the Americas, or a godwit can fly Alaska to New Zealand, 12,000km without stopping, or a Latham’s (Japanese) Snipe can make the journey from the north of Japan to Northern Australia in just over three (3) days.
If I watch a small honeyeater plying its trade among the leaves, it is hard to gain an understanding of the mechanics involved. A blur of wings and the tiny creature is across the paddock. A fledged blackbird whirs away in my backyard, and eventually makes it up on to the top of a small rose bush. It’s all too quick.
I am it has to be said, quite guilty of feeding chips to passing seagulls. They not only accept the human condition, but can work a breeze to adeptly take a chip thrown in any direction. They simply hang in the air.
When it comes to watching flight in action, the bigger birds are a fine choice because everything happens just that little bit slower, and a little bit larger making it easier to see the skills in action.
The 747 or Starlifters of the fleet have a much slower wing beat and its possible to detect some of the many functions going on.
A Wedge-tailed Eagle being pursed by flotilla of aggrieved ravens and magpies, simply turns on its wings and uses very little energy as it swings from one updraft to another. The pursuers on the other hand are working flat out to keep up, and eventually, energy expended, they must plummet back down exhausted. The eagle simply extends a fingertip feather and glides away on the next change of breeze.
Black Kites have the ability to make use of the slightest breeze and work it without a wing flap. They seem to be able to follow a tractor across a paddock always at the tractor speed, and turn round at the end of the run and begin again. They seem to have a wonderful flexible tail that some times acts as a rudder, some as an oar, and other times as a sail. Flicking and twisting it as needed to keep station.
Pelicans, ungainly on land, and not much better on the water, seem to be able to carry that enormous body through the air with scarcely a check of instructions.
But, and we are getting to it all now young Skywalker, But, my hands-down favourite aeronaut is the Black Swan.
No rapid wing beats, a huge pay load and they enjoy water-skiing too.
We were out looking for an elusive Great Crested Grebe.
The Jawbone park area has many fine ponds that the swans use as a refuge to rest between feedings.
And they waft in along the narrow ponds making inflight relatively easy. Pick up a swan in the viewfinder, wait, press the shutter, rinse and repeat.
What I find most fascinating is all the work going on as they check their speed from a fast high approach, set the landing point, adjust the wings, use the body and neck as an air-brake, hang out the paddles, line it all up, and then slide onto the water, sometimes one-legged skiing, sometimes two.
One of the reasons I keep going out, and ‘Swans’ is a major Keyword in my database.
I found this quote which says it all.
“…wings flap joyously With the pinion and plumage of love” Job 39:15
7 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #57: The Wonder of Flight”
Such amazing birds as they fly and particularly the landing technique, which you have described perfectly!
Often I will just watch, camera forgotten. And that is part of the reason I watch/photograph birds, the sense of wonder!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hello David, you’re right somtimes I get so carried away with the moment, that I scarecly make a shot. Its all that hard feather work adjusting and changing ever so minutely just to get the perfect approach. Altought truth be told I did see a Swan mess it up one day and the back part became the front part as it tumbled in. 🙂
Well written story Dave and I couldn’t agree more.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Rodger, I do appreciate the thoughts.
I was at Jawbone yesterday with the Birdlife Beginners’ group – lovely. Excellent article as always David, and such a lovely shot of the Swan.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hello Eleanor, I seem to have somehow got out step with the Beginners outings this year, not on purpose, but just seem to hvae missed the ‘boat’. Will try and get to a few next season. Best wishes to Alan and Hazel, they are the best.
A beautiful capture of a majestic bird David. Loved your narrative on the amazing achievements of some of our birds. How marvelous they all are and inspiring to us in so many ways. That is why I study their behaviour and use them to inspire and encourage good life values in our younger generation.