Photographing the Subtle Beauty of the Gray Catbird
Catbirds are unknown to most of my non-birding friends. I think these birds are often overlooked because they resemble the more common and conspicuous blackbirds. The Gray Catbirds’ beauty is quite subtle. Both male and female are overall gray, with dark eyes, and black on its cap, tail, bill, legs and feet. Rich rusty feathers peek out from under its wings and tail. Not shy, Gray Catbirds are commonly found at feeders, snacking on everything we have to offer. Once in a while, I’ll see them eat the oranges we put out for the Woodpeckers and Orioles.
Playing with Natural Light
The Catbirds in our yard are numerous and stay around all summer. I photographed these Catbirds before the heavy leaf cover from our tall trees grew to block much of the good light in our yard. I set up the tripod, camera and 500 mm lens on the porch and got a cup of coffee. No need to hide behind a blind for these curious birds. As long as I didn’t make any sudden movements, they flew in close to the house and went about their business with hardly a look in my direction.
I had the time and opportunity to just play -photographing the Catbirds at different times against diverse backgrounds. I got off the porch and experimented with the directionality of light.
Compare the shadows, textures, and the colors in the two photos (above and below) to see what a difference changing out the natural light can make.
If you want to explore how to manipulate light in your images, don’t get into the rut of going to the same place at the same time. Move the camera and tripod around. Observe and learn how your lens sees light.
Listening for the Gray Catbird
For the longest time, I heard but did not see what I thought was a Brown Thrasher singing in our yard. There may have been a Brown Thrasher or two around, but the songs I heard most likely emanated from the much more numerous Gray Catbirds–another mimic thrush.
The Gray Catbird is a member of the mockingbird and thrasher family and known to imitate other birds, mammals and electronic devices. Catbirds are best known for their scolding, screeching, nasally, cat sounding song. Besides his cat calls, the Catbird repertoire includes stringing together many, many lesser known songs, some joyful, but most just odd twitters and tweets. When they are not singing or eating, they like to roll around and splash in the fountain.
The Catbird Seat
According to Wikipedia, “The catbird seat is an idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, often in terms of having the upper hand or greater advantage”. Easy to speculate as to why the catbird is associated with this folksy phrase. It’s most likely because the males stake their territorial claim by singing a wide variety of birdsong (loudly and early in the morning) from the highest and most advantageous point around.
(Please click on this link to learn more about another mimicking thrush, the Brown Thrasher)