Whether you're a birder, naturalist, bird photographer or a combination of them all there are times when one becomes too familiar with the common birds. I know there are many times I look at photos from around the world and dream about being able to observe and photograph the birds I see. The Common Kingfisher, which has a wide distribution being in Europe, Asia, and Africa is one such bird. For me this is the bird that is at the top of the list when it comes to birds I want to observe and photograph. Sadly, with the current requirements placed upon me I don't have the time to pursue this dream, maybe in the future. The majestic Bald Eagle is another of the species on my list to photograph. Growing up in southwest Virginia the Bald Eagle was a species we never saw in the area. An occasional Golden Eagle could be seen hunting in the valley where we lived, but never a Bald Eagle. Now that I've moved far away from SW Va. there are Bald Eagles nesting in the area, even a pair within sight of one of my sisters' home. Every trip back to the states is nowhere near Va. as I spend time with my sons at their house in Alabama. At some point I need to visit family back in Va. and hopefully will find the eagles there as well.
Living in Puerto Rico I do have access to many species of birds, several of which are endemic to the island. There are also several species here that are very common birds, these are the birds I see every day and have conditioned myself to disregard. I think it's a case of familiarity breeding contempt, I and most others, get so used to seeing them I tend to overlook them as a study or photographic subject. The Bananaquit is one such bird, this bird is said to be the most abundant bird in PR and is often overlooked by everyone. The Bananaquit is somewhat distinct in that it is a nectar eater, but not a hummingbird. Eating is achieved by using the bill to make a hole in the bottom of a flower and then lapping up the nectar. Most of the time in order to accomplish the task at hand the bird will be upside down in relation to the flower. These birds can be found everywhere on the island, having a semi-tropical climate means we have many buildings that are more open than a comparable building in a colder climate. There are restaurants that have had to adapt their for serving and storage in order to overcome unwelcome visits from this bird. These birds have no qualms about landing on a table to steal their sugar fix right from ones plate. For several months the Bananaquits kept my hummingbird feeders dry and I have to admit I wasn't happy with them at the time. At any given time during the day there would be thirty or more of these birds waiting their turn at the feeders. They were much more polite than the fighting hummingbirds that visited the feeders. The Bananaquits seemed to have an established system that they used to eat from the feeders. There would be a bird at each station eating, another bird perched on the hanger for the feeder, the rest in a nearby tree. As a bird left the feeder then one on the perch would replace it, and another from the tree would replace the one on the hanger. I watched for a while one day and tried to keep track of the coming and going and I never saw a bird try to cut in line. The downside was these guys were eating me out of house and home, a large bottle of sugar mix only lasted forty minutes with these ravenous birds. I eventually had to change styles of feeders so the Bananaquits would leave and go back to feeding on the many available flowers instead of the free meal from me. Now I'm thinking I will hang one of the old feeders back up and give them one bottle per day. Their habit of feeding upside down is why the new feeders discouraged their feeding by not have an area they could perch to eat upside down.
Recently I've come to realize that this particular common and sometime troublesome bird has several qualities that make it interesting. The way they hang onto a flower upside down while eating is a comical sight to observe. The seemingly structured way they would wait in line for openings at the feeder suggests a complicated flock structure or hierarchy within the flock. But one of the biggest reasons to observe and photograph this species is that while it is very common and an often overlooked bird here, it simply is not seen that way by someone half the globe away that has never encountered the species. What we as photographers often see as uninteresting subjects can bring joy to someone else. Obviously this applies to more than just birds, this is true of everything in our daily lives that become commonplace to us. Palm trees are a dime a dozen here, one can see them everywhere one looks. Recently while having a telephone conversation with one of my sisters who lives in Va. she asked for me to take a specific landscape photo that included lots of palm trees. As we were discussing this I was silently thinking, why? they are just palm trees. Finally the lightbulb came on and I realized that where she lives there are no palm trees growing in the area and my photo may give her some warmth as she rides out the cold winter months.
Going forward I'm going to take a closer look at what has become commonplace for me. I will take the time to pursue and photograph the common and overlooked birds, along with the other overlooked items in my life. Of course I'll keep chasing the rare or what are considered the attractive birds and I'll continue to dream about pursuing the "exotics" that are on my list. But, I will take more notice of what's right in front of me and not overlook them. As I was thinking of doing this story I was searching for useable photos to add to the story, this is a photography site after all. Sadly the only photos I have are photos I've taken while testing new equipment or photos taken as an afterthought while pursuing more glamourous birds. I will make it a priority to obtain photos of this and other common birds that I would be proud to show in a portfolio.
Hopefully you've enjoyed my foray into story telling and this will be the first of several to come featuring some common overlooked birds. For now it's time I stopped writing, yes I can get long winded, I'll leave you with the idea to go out and photograph something common where you are. A tree, a bird, whatever, the subject doesn't matter, somewhere out there is someone that has never seen it before.