Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 1/From a Cabin Window
From a Cabin Window
BY H. W. MENKE
With Photographs from Nature by the Author
URING the winter of 1897-8 I prospected for Jurassic fossils in Carbon and Albany counties, Wyoming. When cold weather and snow rendered field work impracticable as well as very disagreeable, I made permanent camp for the winter at Aurora. Wyoming,—a mere station on the Union Pacific R. R., an old abandoned section-house serving as my winter quarters.
This part of Wyoming,—at all times dreary and lonely, is strikingly so during winter months. Then snow fills the ravines and lends a level, prairie-like aspect to the landscape. I doubt if there is to be found anywhere a more desolate country
HORNED LARKS AND SNOWFLAKES
than this: at least such was my impression when the novelty of my surroundings had worn off.
Among the various expedients to which I resorted for amusement, was photographing such birds as I could lure around the cabin. That I was not more successful in securing good negatives is due to the difficulties with which I had to contend. Chief of these were the fierce, wintry blasts sweeping over the plains and filling the air with snow and dust.
A single experiment taught me the inadvisability of leaving the camera exposed for any length of time to these conditions. I had been trying to get a large photograph of Horned Larks. The camera was placed on the ground and a handful of oats scattered before it,
HORNED LARKS AND SNOWFLAKES
while I waited within the cabin for nearly two hours for an opportunity to pull the thread attached to the camera shutter. But the birds persistently avoided the pebble marking the focal plane, and clouds continually obscured the sun when I wished to make an exposure. At last the right moment came, I pulled the thread, and hurried out to get the result. That plate was never developed. Snow had clogged the shutter, and I found it had remained wide open after being sprung.
By throwing oats on only one spot, and that close to the window, I soon gathered quite a flock of Horned Larks, who came regularly every morning to feed from the constantly replenished supply. Finally, after a week of gloomy, dark weather, a cloudless sky offered especially good chances for a photograph of my feathered friends. This time I placed the camera on the window-sill. Maneuvres attendant upon focusing and inserting a plate-holder, of course, frightened the birds away. They were back again within a few minutes, but an unexpected source of annoyance interfered. A freight train stopped opposite the scene of my operations and belched great billows of smoke between the sun and the birds. Also the shadow of the cabin was gradually encroaching on the feeding ground. I made a trial exposure, however, and obtained a very good negative. But a shadow in the foreground and a wagon tongue in the rear, did not add to the pictorial effect of the group.
After much pulling and prying, I pushed the objectionable wagon out of the drifts, and put off further photographing until the next morning. The morning came as bright and sunny as I desired. My
feathered subjects were early in the open air studio, and required no conventional admonition to ‘look pleasant.’ In fact, they were almost too lively for the camera shutter. The negative obtained proved very good, and well repaid me for all trouble and annoyance.
A few Yellow-headed Blackbirds were attracted by the food supply I furnished, and I made several negatives of them. The Yellow-heads were more wary than the Horned Larks, and flew away at the slightest disturbance. Only a few at a time gathered beneath the window, while the others perched on fence-posts at a safe distance and kept watch.
But it remained for a Northern Shrike to add ‘insult to injury,’ by seizing a dead mouse I had placed on a post and alighting on the camera with its capture!