Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/The Camera as an Aid in the Study of Birds

The Camera as an Aid in the Study of Birds

BY DR. THOS. S. ROBERTS

Director Department of Birds, Natural History Survey of Minnesota
With photographs from Nature by the Author
(Concluded from page 13)

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TURNING reluctantly from the attractive little Chickadee family, described in the preceding number of this magazine, we will next seek the acquaintance of a bird of entirely different feather, and, what is of more moment to the bird photographer, of entirely different disposition.

The Killdeer Plover, perhaps from his close kinship to the fraternity of game birds, has come to regard man and all human devices with deep suspicion, and to get on terms of close fellowship with him is no easy matter. While not himself an usual object of the sportsman's effort, owing to his lean body and indifferent savor, he is the immediate relative of those much sought-after birds, the Golden and the Black-bellied Plover. Unlike these more aristocratic members of the Plover group, the Killdeer does not retire to semi-arctic fastnesses to rear its brood, but nests wherever found throughout the eastern United States. Its ever-restless nature and loud alarm, “killdee, killdee,” as it moves from place to place, or circles round and round, always at a safe distance, together with its common occurrence throughout populated as well as wild regions, makes this plebeian well-known to every country lad and the bane of every would-be stealthy Nimrod. So noisily persistent is its outcry that it has been dubbed by ornithologists vocifera—Ægialitis vocifera—and a most appropriate appellation it is.

Like many loquacious people, Mr. and Mrs. Killdeer have a rather lazy vein in their makeup, and spend but little time or effort nest building. A little depression lined with a few bits of stick or straw, a few pebbles or other handy materials satisfies their ambition. In the bare, exposed situation usually chosen, such a nest, with its four spotted eggs, is much less conspicuous than would be a well made one. The first of our pictures showed one of these nests located in a cornfield, which is a not very uncommon site, although bare pasture knolls and gravelly banks are more usually selected. The photograph of the nest and eggs was, of course, easily secured, and is chiefly of interest because it shows so well how an open nest with its eggs may be protected by blending perfectly with the general color of the immediate surroundings—protective coloration, as it is called. To secure the portrait of the

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KILLDEER ON NEST

wary old Killdeer, who left the nest the instant anyone but entered the large field, seemed a hopeless task. But the novice is ever ambitious, and the attempt was made in the following fashion, with what success the accompanying pictures will show. Placing the camera on the sharply tilted tripod, so that the distance from lens to nest was about four feet, the dreadful looking object was left in position for some time on the evening preceding the day on which the photographs were taken. The next day proved light and clear, and with the sun well up in the heavens we began operations, my companion and assistant on this occasion being Rev. H. W. Gleason, a bird enthusiast undaunted by any obstacle and fertile in devices. Arranging the camera as already described, omitting the green hood in this instance, as it would have been worse than useless, we retired entirely from the field, which fortunately lay on a gently sloping hillside. From our distant retreat we watched, with field-glass in hand, the maneuvers of the mother bird. The experience of the preceding evening had evidently helped to prepare the way, for after only brief delay the anxious bird began running in a great spiral steadily converging to the central point. Every clod of earth or little mound in the path was mounted and, with much craning of neck and turning of head, the dreadful engine glistening in the sunshine was closely scrutinized from all sides, but as it was motionless, it probably was regarded as some new-fangled contrivance for cultivating corn, of finer build than the hoes, rakes, and other implements left by the men in the field. Once satisfied, she made a last quick run directly between the legs of the tripod, and stood erect over her treasures. A long trolling-line, procured at a neighboring farmhouse, had been attached to the lever arm releasing the shutter, as our seventy-five feet of tubing was not half long enough. Creeping to the end of the line, a quick pull made the exposure, 125 of a second, with wide open stop and rapid plate. Pulling up the slack of the line seemed to startle the bird more than the click of the shutter, and after repeating this procedure several times we were altogether uncertain as to whether the bird had been caught at all; and as it was impossible, there in the field, to follow the advice of an interested farmer spectator, who insisted that we “ought to look at them there plates and see what we had before going further,” we cast about for some surer method. Carefully looking over the ground, I found that some seventy-five feet from the nest there was a shallow depression just deep enough to entirely conceal a man lying prone on the soft, ploughed ground. So the rubber tube was substituted for the line and the bulb end carried up the slope to the little hollow. As it would be impossible from this position to see the bird, and as we had discovered that a low whistle or noise caused her to leave the nest at once, some method of signaling had to be arranged. The trolling line suggested a way, as we found that it would reach readily from the bulb in the hollow to the edge of the field. So, attaching one end of it to my wrist, I took my position flat on the ground in the middle of the field, with a hot noon sun pouring down over-head, and awaited the signal,—a vigorous jerk on the trolling line, to be given by Mr. Gleason, who from a distance was watching with a glass the movements of our unwilling sitter. The signal soon came, and these complicated and rather juvenile tactics proved so successful that very soon Mrs. Plover did not so much as change position at the click of the shutter, and when driven away to rearrange the camera between exposures, came quickly back again. In a short time we had exposed all the plates that seemed necessary, and retired from the field conquerors, though leaving the foe in peaceful possession. Returning to the house for supplies for a new expedition, a lady member of the party, who, from a shady hammock, had been watching for several hours these rather boyish antics, saluted us with the withering remark, “About four years of age, I should think, instead of forty.” But we hoped that the end would

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KILLDEER, NEST, AND EGGS

justify the means, and were anxious to inspect the developed results. This part of the work was accomplished a day or two later, and the pictures here presented show, I think, that our efforts were not entirely in vain. Several others were not so good. In one, the female sits quietly on her nest, back to the camera, and in coloration blends admirably with the surroundings. In another, she is crouching in a half uncertain attitude, while in still another she stands erect, revealing the four eggs directly beneath her, and with ruffled plumage seems a little resentful of the intrusion. In all, it will be noticed that the bill is partly open, either because it was a very warm day, because the poor bird was startled and ill at ease, or, it may be, because it was no easy matter for this always loquacious bird to keep its mouth shut even when posing for its picture.