I recently had a bit of a revelation. It concerns how I watch birds. And it’s kind of neat, now that I’ve thought about it.

While plowing through my computer-hard-drive-clogging downloads of recent bird photographs from my various cameras and trying to delete the crummy and enhance (or even just keep track of) the keepers, I noticed that I had a long series of images of a displaying male Ruddy Duck. There’s nothing remarkable about this. And no one is going to mistake my images for those of Arthur Morris or Marie Read anytime soon. But what DID catch my eye is that, noting the image time stamps, I spent 45 minutes watching this one male duck doing his “bubble dance.”

Normally, when out birding, I might note the ruddy duck, note that he was displaying, say “How cool!” and be on my way looking for other birds. If I were leading a field trip of fellow bird watchers, I might even share some obscure facts about the male ruddy duck. For example: did you know that males of this species are particularly and unusually “well equipped?” Well they are, and that’s a “Wow” fact for you… But I digress…

Rather than note the bird and move on, I did the opposite. Presented with an opportunity to capture images of a nearby bird under ideal light conditions, I stayed to shoot and in the process got to observe a range of bird behavior that I would have missed otherwise. Getting keyed in to the behavior only made me want to stay longer and capture more images of this pretty remarkable display.

I think this is a change for the better. For me anyway, it greatly enriches the experience. I spend more quality time with the birds!

I’ve heard that birding and bird photography are not always simpatico. Birders sometimes spook subjects for photographers and vice versa. I’ve experienced both sides of this. However I’m not here to takes sides. I’m just here to share this small revelation.

I enjoy my days afield whether I’m primarily using my optics or my cameras, or both! I get a bit of a Zenlike buzz going when I’m deep into photo mode with a cooperative bird. And isn’t feeling good part of the reason we keep heading out the door seeking those things with feathers? I think it is!

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Written by Bill
Bill Thompson, III is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, the magazine founded by his parents more than 30 years ago, in 1978. He is the author of numerous books about birds and nature, including, most recently Feeding and Identifying Birds and The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, both part of the Peterson Field Guide Series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. Bill has led birding trips all across North America and has spoken or performed at more than 100 birding and nature festivals worldwide. He has watched birds in more than 25 countries and on five continents. He is also the blogger behind Bill of the Birds and hosts the birding podcast This Birding Life.