Wayne Hinshaw: Shore birds

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — While sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast on Kiawah Island, I noticed hundreds of shore birds in a frenzy on the fairway of the golf course outside. I was too curious not go out there with the birds and join the excitement, so I took off with my camera in hand.

Walking amongst the birds and watching them fly over the waterway and dive into the water was exciting. While in full flight, the birds fly back up with a fish in their beaks. There I stand, with birds all around me on the ground and over my head, the air filled with birds. The noise of the screams and shrill voices of the birds is numbing.

David Attenborough once said, “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”

Gore Vidal is quoted as saying, “To a man, ornithologists are tall, slender and bearded so that they can stand motionless for hours, imitating kindly trees, as they watch for birds.” That description almost fits me. An ornithologist is one who studies birds. That is me. I am not so tall and certainly not slender, but I do have a beard and I did stand somewhat  motionless for nearly an hour in the midst of the flock.

Birds in wildlife are so amazing to watch and observe the detail of their features, of their bodies, and feathers of their wings. I see such beauty in the marvelous flying creatures.

Seeing such beauty is the beginning of my photographic process. Watching with patience and absorbing what nature has placed before me to see, my brain processes the visual images that my camera is about to capture. My mind is in a state of enjoyment and a feeling of tremendous gratification from the images that I am about to capture.

I see a massive group of birds all flying and zig-zagging in the air over me, looking like silver-white shapes bobbing up and down. A Black Skimmer bird dives into the dark water, coming up with his red pointed beak loaded with a 4-inch-long fish. Other sea gulls and terns dive into the water, likewise coming up with fish. Their dives leave circular ripples in the water, extending out from the point of the dive.

In the bushes there is a colony of Great Egrets sitting and watching the same show that I am witnessing. There with the yellow-beaked, snowy-white egrets sits a Brown Pelican. The black, murky water beneath the egrets reflects the greenish colors of the trees and bushes that line the water’s edge, along with the white, blurry images of the birds. When the egrets fly, it is amazing to see the long, slender bodies and even longer necks be coordinated enough to fly. This is surely paradise for a photographer armed with camera and a long telephoto lens. This is the beauty of nature at its finest. I hope my photos will do the sight justice for the viewers.

Maybe I am getting too close to the water with my concentration on the birds. I see a 10-foot alligator looming in the water about 15 feet from me, with his eyes locked in my direction. Peering up between the tall blades of green grass, I see only the top of the gator’s back above the water with his black eyes on me. Most likely, he came over to take a chance on grabbing a bird from the water, then he spied me. On this very hot morning, seeing the gator so close sends cold chills up my back. My mind tells me it is urgent that I move away … now!

Photography can be hard work. It can be mentally stressful trying to get my mental vision of the situation recorded in the camera. I want the photo to be a perfect photo as much as possible. It has to be my image, coming from me. I want viewers to see what I see. I want viewers to want to look at my images and see my passion and heart in that photo. I want them to see me in the image. It is me, my point-of-view, my creation that I want the viewer to see and feel. I don’t mean to be overly arrogant in my writing, but I am very passionate about my photography.

Mark Schacter writes about his own motivation for photography, “I am motivated by an urge to communicate on the most fundamental level — a more profound kind of communication than is possible (for me, at least) with words. It’s about trying to do the impossible — draw other people into my own head and have them see the world as I envision it. Photography is an imperfect attempt to share my private experience.”

I can only hope that you enjoyed walking into a flock of shore birds with me and felt part of the refreshing excitement that ran through my body during the experience. Maybe my photos and words will inspire you to try the adventure yourselves next time.