Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tuesday sparrow blogging

Here are two views of a Lincoln's sparrow in my yard. These birds are quite small, even for sparrows. This one was solitary, which is typical--when I put out birdseed they never appear in flocks like white-crowned sparrows and house sparrows. Sometimes they will forage as pairs, but this one is the only one around at the moment.

The species was not named for Abe Lincoln, by the way. Thomas Lincoln was a young man on one of John James Audubon's field expeditions, and it was this Lincoln in 1832 in Labrador who shot one for Audubon to first examine and paint. Audubon named the bird "Lincoln's Pinewood Finch" for his marksman. Audubon's painting shows two birds in weird and unbirdlike poses, the consequence of painting dead birds while trying to imagine them alive. Audubon's birds usually look odd and not like real birds.

I shouldn't fault Audubon for falsifying the appearance of his subjects when the camera, in its own way, does the same thing. These photos are not what the eye sees, or for that matter what you see through binoculars. My eye, at least, sees small, quick birds as a kind of movement narrative, and even with binoculars I can't _examine_ what I am seeing the way I can with a photo. The live bird changes constantly. Little birds in particular never sit still. The photographed bird OTOH is frozen in a pose that may be more natural-looking than one of Audubon's strange paintings, but is nevertheless unnatural in that your eye can move over it and look at isolated detail. In nature you can't do that.

That does not keep me from taking photos, of course. We are monkeys, not birds, and as such we like to examine detail, turn things sideways and look at them from odd angles.

Lincoln's sparrow with rock and snailshells

Larger view of same sparrow

click to enlarge

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