Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Three Phases of A Bird's Morning

Birds go through three distinct phases of activity on a typical morning.  To get the most out of filming birds, it is a good idea to know what they are.  The first is called "the dawn chorus."  It doesn't start at dawn; it ends at dawn.  It starts in the barely perceptible change of light when night turns to twilight.  At this time of year, that is about four or four-thirty in the morning.  I never hear the dawn chorus on the river.  I hear it at home when I'm getting ready to leave.  There isn't much reason to be on the river at that time, since light levels or so low I couldn't film anyway.  The only reason I can think of to get to a location this early would be to enter a blind before the animals know you are there, but that doesn't fit my situation.  The birds always know I'm there and recognize that I don't represent an immediate threat, so they pretty much ignore my presence.

It is easy to recognize when the second phase begins - at dawn - but when it ends is not so easy to determine.  This phase is commonly called the "morning bustle." This is the period of increased activity centered on getting something to eat and is true for most creatures, not just birds.  This is the period which is most productive in filming most birds (excluding owls and other nocturnal species). The photo of the eagle above was taken very shortly after dawn.  You can see the golden light of dawn on it's white parts.  There were actually two eagles flying together and this photo was taken at the moment when the lead eagle spotted a fish near the surface of the water.  (They were flying up river.) 

On this morning, I had arrived at the river about ten minutes after dawn, later than I had wanted to. This incident with the eagle occurred less than ten minutes after arriving.  The eagle dropped down to the river, snatched a fish out of the water, and flew off across the river.  Less than a half-minute later, the other eagle did the exact same thing.

I stayed until eight-thirty, which most people would consider relatively early, but by then, the third phase of a normal day had begun.  It occurred earlier than usual, but I recognized that it had begun because I didn't see a single bird for half-an-hour.

This period is called "the hush" and builds through the day as most activity tapers off.  I could continue to stand there, but I have learned that I'm not going to see very much during this period of the day and I may as well put the time to better use.

If you think about it, What are the chances that the eagle would return soon and catch another fish?  Not very high - unless it was fishing for a family.  If it is only feeding itself, it most likely won't feed again until evening.  So, all those birds that have caught fish before you arrive are pretty much done for the morning.  That is why it is important to arrive at the beginning of this period of activity.  The action will not pick up again until late in the afternoon.

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