After days of dull and murky weather, the sun was finally out and we were on our way to Point Reyes National Park which is rated among the top ten birding sites in US. It was a picturesque drive over curvy mountain passes and windswept cliffs, past lesser-known towns and peaceful lagoons. We crossed Point Reyes Station which has a frontier town appearance with its Wild West signage and headed towards the Bear Valley.
A gust of cool gentle breeze welcomed me as I got down from the car. With a cup of hot tea warming us up, I began to stroll across the landscape. As I walked over the clumps of grass stalks which were still wet with the morning dew, I was immersed in a wide array of bird calls. Suddenly there was a distinctive long drawn trilling sound. It was like a raspy whistle. Eddie who was accompanying us whispered that it was the call of the Varied Thrush. In the words of the famed American ornithologist and illustrator, Fuertes “it is as perfectly the voice of the cool, dark, peaceful solitude which the bird chooses for its home as could be imagined".
Varied thrushes are fairly shy birds which skulk in the shadows of the forest floor and can be quite difficult to spot. It can be especially tough to see one, since their gorgeous plumage is reminiscent of dappled sunlight or pumpkin-colored leaves on a forest floor. I wondered whether I would be able to have a glimpse of this wary bird.
And there it was….its handsome plumage harmonizing so well with the fall landscape. It had a slate blue back and nape, an orange face, eyebrow, and breast with a black eye stripe and black necklace or breast band. With a flicker of its wings it was lurching forward, grasping leaves with its beak, turning them over to see what was hiding beneath as if it was searching for a lost key! It slowly tilted its head upwards and the sun played a colorful symphony on its feathers. There was a striking poise and a charming dignity in its demeanor.
I tried to be as still as possible, still undecided as to whether I should photograph or paint it!
The act of watching a bird is essentially negotiating a relationship between the observer and the observed. Thoreau said it eloquently “the more you look the less you will observe.” It is an immersive experience imbued with a sense of bewitchment and identification with something beyond one self. An experience often referred to as Eutierria : a feeling of oneness with nature and its life forces. It is a state of empathic attunement with nature. Ted Hughes once remarked that the secret of writing poetry is to ‘imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it … Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it’.
“The world is full of magic things,” said the poet W.B. Yeats, “patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” That night I looked at photograph of the varied thrush I’d taken, marveling at the bird’s beauty, each tiny feather on its back a masterpiece of color. It is through these fleeting experiences that I strive to discover the magical in nature through my photographs. . .