Monday May 10th I went out to Great Meadows in Concord.
It was my first time out with a DSLR, 500mm lens and tripod since surgery. I was anxious about my stamina with this setup which weighs a little under 20 lbs. Insignificant in the short run but a little more challenging after you’ve walked a ½ mile or so to your location. The main concern though was how would my lung capacity hold up to this load and distance.
Thank goodness, the day was a real delight, crisp with just enough puffy light clouds to keep the sky from being bland. The water levels were high and the reeds that grow alongside the main trail were below waist height. The trail was also dry and devoid of the lush carpet of little brown land mines that the Canada Geese lay down once they are firmly entrenched in the area.
As I walked up the trail there was a joyous cacophony of birdsong. Male Redwing Blackbirds were making territorial claims and advertising their mating prowess with a jukebox selection of tunes and jingles to charm the ladies. Additionally, however there was a special sound that I was particularly attuned to. It was the burbling almost water like sound of Marsh Wrens. Now BirdWeb says “Male Marsh Wrens have up to 200 songs, which they sing almost continuously during the breeding season. Their songs resemble the sound of a sewing machine.” Obviously someone there does not have much of a musical ear.
What they do go on to describe correctly is that the Marsh Wren is an extremely illusive little bird to photograph. Hearing them would lead you to believe that you should be able to bag several hundred good wren shots in just 10 minutes. After all, they’re all around you. They are however crafty little birds though and the spend 99% of their time well hidden around the base of the emergent vegetation. They pop up (Boing) to perch on a cattail and sing a little, maybe once every 25 to 40 minutes and their performance only lasts 1 to 2 minutes maximum.
So the rules of thumb for getting a Marsh Wren shot at all are as follows.
Put that camera on a tripod. Your arms will need the break.
Don’t pay attention to anything else. When you look away to see the Blue Heron flying overhead, that is when the Marsh Wren will pop up. You will see something in the corner of your eye and by the time you’ve turned around he’ll be gone.
Don’t bother trying to use autofocus. If autofocus misses and has to hunt, your shot is gone.
You are not going to get the first pop up. Memorize the particular reed or clump or cattail that he perches on and manually focus on it. These guys are creatures of habit. He’ll be back, the question is just when.
Decide that you are going to be very very patient. As mentioned, there may be 25 to 40 minutes between pop ups.
Know that sometimes they’ll pop up (Boing) and fly to another location without perching. The Marsh Wrens call this is call a “Ha Ha, Only Kidding”. It is doubtful that you’ll get the commuter shot but who knows. If you want to try for it, have a second body with a short telephoto if you can. (And send me the shot. I’d love to see one.)
When you hear activity a few feet down the road, don’t yield to temptation, pick up your rig and go zipping down there because you think it may be a little luckier. As soon as you do that your bird you were waiting for will pop up and say “Gotcha, I’m over here.”
Ignore other folks, photographers, birders and well wishers that are telling you about other things they’ve seen, even other marsh wrens. Stick to your intended bird and commit to him.
But most importantly, while you’re waiting, breathe deeply, smell the earth, listen to the sounds around you, become one with the environment, savor the moment and meditate on the joy of being alive. In the end, the being is first and the image is secondary.
Monday, I stayed committed for almost two and a half hours. As my patience was beginning to wane, the little bugger popped up, perching on a stalk about a foot over from the one I expected him to return to. I quickly turned, refocused and fired off eight to ten shots.
I had finally bagged my bird. “Yess!!! This makes the third one in five years. I didn’t get the framing and composition I’d have liked and the image above is a severe crop to adjust for that. Before I accept this as a shot to work on, I’ll try to get back to GM and try for another marsh wren or two before the reeds get too tall. They grow very fast and in another couple of weeks you won’t be almost able to see the birds at all because the vegetation will be too tall and full.
The other good news is that I was able to carry my gear in and out, with an extra rest stop or two and a little huffin and puffin but I have faith that I’ll get stronger and stronger.