50 Things #50, Number 25

Number 25-Go Bird Watching

On I go with the list, trying to cross off as many of the ones I can do in the nice fall weather. Number 25-Go Bird Watching was one I was really excited to do. I never paid much attention to birds growing up, but when I worked at a garden center for a number of years in my 20’s and early 30’s I became especially interested in backyard birdfeeders. I had several different kinds designed to attract many varieties of birds and enjoyed watching them up close.

But going bird watching is something different entirely. It involves a fair amount of preparation beforehand-finding the best spots for viewing, the best time to see the most birds, what camera equipment to bring, what field guides to carry. Indeed even what apps to get for your phone to help with bird identifying. I did a little research and discovered that just like with Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is something of a bird watchers mecca. I saw online a place called The Ravine and was immediately intrigued to find it because I don’t know Prospect Park well.

My good and dear friend Carol volunteered to join me last Sunday morning to cross this item off the bucket list. After a mandatory stop for coffee, we set out to find The Ravine. To be honest it was a gray and damp day. One of those days I could have easily said screw it…I want to stay in bed and sleep. But I was really excited to get out there and see what we would find. Unfortunately maybe the birds had the same notion I did, because initially Carol and I were not seeing or hearing too much out there. It took us awhile to find the Ravine as well, because it is well and truly tucked away in the middle of the park. Surprisingly at one point there were people on horses riding right past us.  Eventually we both sensed we were near, and then came the unmistakable sound of running water. Niagara Falls it is not….but it is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of a busy park and an even busier city. We both stopped to take lots of photographs of the falls.

Getting back to the birds, other than a few flying high above us, we were not really seeing or hearing anything much, even though our binoculars and zoom lenses were primed and ready. At one point we saw several medium size birds hopping around and searching for food near a little stream. The combination of the cloudy day and the limits of the zoom on my lens meant I really did not get great, clear photos of them. I also did not recognize them initially. I had a suspicion but wanted to consult the bird guides after we were done. We moved on and Carol observed one spot where the birds were flying back and forth high above us in the trees. From high above the occasional acorn fell to the ground below. Various calls were going on all around us. Though there was not much actual bird watching going on, but there was a lot of bird listening.

And that’s when it kind of hit me. Being a photographer, and having Carol (also an awesome photographer) there with me, I might have made a rookie mistake in thinking that we were going to see dozens of varieties all there in front of us, ready to have their photo taken. I wanted to go bird watching because I wanted to experience those moments of stillness-of watching, waiting, listening that sadly seems to be missing so much these days. As we sat there, necks craned high above us, desperate for something, anything to come within view to get a photograph, I lost sight of that fact. That bird watching is in fact nature watching, and observing. And when I realized that, I was not disappointed that I had not taken good photos. I was not disappointed that I had not seeing rare and exciting species. I was out with a good friend enjoying the treasures of nature that surround us even in the big city. That was what made the experience enjoyable. And it was also only a first of course. Of all the activities I added to this bucket list, I already knew that once I went bird watching once, I would want to do it again. Later on, sitting in a bar having a well deserved beer and a burger I realized why.

Those birds hopping around by the stream that I thought I recognized but was unsure of? Well my instinct from the color of the breast was that they were robins…but something about the coloring of the head and their size did not seem right at first. Eagerly Carol and I looked at the bird guide I had, and also at an app on my phone where it was confirmed that they were in fact robins. But what I realized is that even though it was not a rare bird sighting I had accomplished what I had wanted. First, I actually got out and did it on a lazy Sunday morning. Second, I had observed the terrain, watched the movement of birds high above. I had listened to birdsong chirping all around me. But mostly when I consulted the book, I realized that I was actually bird watching. It did not matter that it was a robin-a bird I have seen plenty of. I don’t ever recall having seen them in such a deep wooded setting.  But checking the book out revealed to me the habits of the bird, as well, and explained why I was seeing what I was seeing. Just like the observing, the research is part of  it too. So mission accomplished! Thanks again to my buddy Carol for joining me!


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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle




‘From the ashes something new grows’

By my recollection this is the third bird related post I have done up to now. I’m actually not much of a nature photographer. That requires lots of patience. Because I do a lot of landscape shots, birds inevitably work their way into my photos…whether I want them to or not. The truth is I am truly fascinated by birds of all shapes, sizes and colors but my restless nature with photography makes me avoid time setting up and waiting for the mere chance of a great photo of them. I prefer going with the flow, capturing things on the go without a lot of fuss.  But lately in an attempt to really go outside the box both in my writing and photography and trying new things, I realize that I may need to learn some of that patience. I also realized recently that something I said on social media was really true. I have been lamenting the fact that I actually haven’t written about music as much here this year. I decided to fix this in two ways.

Recently I spent an afternoon taking photos with my friend Carol in Long Island City, Queens. We went to a few spots and though I was happy with the end results, I decided that first I needed to return to small scale with my photography. Instead of the big sweeping vistas I seem to have gravitated towards recently, I want to return to something more simple and less ‘big picture’. Of course there is plenty of room for all types of photos and I find that the best photographers have a diverse portfolio, utilizing both large and small scale. But maybe a deliberate focus shift will steer me back towards finding more ideas for writing about music.

The next and probably most obvious other solution is to listen to a lot more music. To find inspiration from artists both new to the scene and new material from established ones. I used to read about music a lot. Used to listen to alternate sources of music as a way of discovering something fresh sounding. I seem to have gotten away from that in the last year or so, and as I look back on my posts during that time, they tend to be from artists I have been familiar with for some time. Combined I hope both of these things will push me into new territory to get back to doing what feels right. The reason I am writing this now is because sometimes someone suddenly and unexpectedly comes into view who you swear has been there forever and pushes you in that direction.

‘See where I am going, and I’ve seen where I have been’

A month or so someone liked a photo I put up on Instagram I hadn’t heard of before. Like most people do, I clicked on the name to see who it was. Maybe a fellow blogger or photographer, or maybe someone from my neighborhood. Instead it was someone by the name of Jackie Venson out of Austin, Texas and on seeing her account, it was obvious she was a singer and guitarist. But what kind of music was it? Off to YouTube I went. And I have to say that weeks later, I’m still digging through the huge number of clips of Jackie has recorded over the last few years. I also have to say that I have not heard a bad track yet. Not only is she a soulful singer but she is one amazing guitarist. I mean truly. There are a lot of them out there, but sometimes you come across one where the guitar seems to be naturally forged into the player’s hands, as if it was meant to be there right from the start. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Jackie Venson, and I’m telling you right now-remember this name.

As I started digging through clips getting a sense of how her music and career have evolved I was astonished to learn that she really has only been playing the guitar for just a few years now, after playing piano since childhood. Then you add in that soulful voice, the songwriting and above all, her exuberance as a performer and you have one irresistible  combination. Jackie is out there touring pretty much nonstop, and I hope to catch her soon myself. I also knew I had to buy some music of hers, and I started with an EP released earlier this year-Transcends. The first track is the catchy ‘Flying’ with a pop soul groove throughout before Jackie takes the song off into another hemisphere with that dynamic guitar. Transcendent indeed.

While watching the video for Flying  I had the not so original idea for the photography side of this post. But I’m okay with that actually. I’ve always wanted this blog to be about finding connections between photography and music. Sometimes obvious, sometimes ones that require a bit of explanation and a lot of introspection on my part. Both types are driven by the song. And as I thought about Jackie’s song I realized that in the one line quoted above she was inadvertently telling me about the past and the future of this blog, about where I want to go, and where I’ve come from with it. I can’t think of a better way of going forward than ‘flying and spreading my wings’ than with this amazing guitar slinging Texas woman. Tomorrow, next week, who knows where it will come from? But the ideas will come from being flexible, just like those magic fingers of Jackie Venson.

Jackie has a prolific presence across social media, so follow her on your platform of choice to stay up to date on her music.

Flying-Written By Jackie Venson

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle


Photo Shuffle-I’m Gonna Fly Someday

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…I’m Gonna Fly Someday By Bruce Cockburn

Taking Flight
‘I’m Gonna Fly’

If you read my last post you know that I took a bit of a break from writing over the last month. I was touched, and somewhat surprised by the reaction I received. More than one person commended me for my honesty  explaining my absence.  I’m sure I have mentioned it on these pages before, but once I started writing this blog, a lot of those bottled up feelings came pouring out. Some of it was heavier on the emotional scale-loneliness, or the car accident I was in years ago for example. Some was about the creative side of me that had been screaming to be unleashed for years. Or some of it was figuring out how to express this new found creativity in a way that people would want to read, and listen to the songs I chose together with my photography (for which I still suffer with self-doubt about). It has been a process. At times emotional, at times difficult, while at other times  it has been a great deal of fun. I think about all of this quite often in fact but now that it is a firm part of my life, I don’t want to change a thing about it, or how or what I write about. 

Continue reading “Photo Shuffle-I’m Gonna Fly Someday”