One would think that with all the traveling I’ve done over the last few years, I’d have done a lot of birding, especially since I was living out of a tent for a significant chunk of that time. But I spent most of that time figuring out how to stay alive and moving, and serious birding fell by the wayside.

Seattle, WA, 2020

Don’t get me wrong, I did take the time when I could, and certainly added some birds to my life-lists, but I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I would have liked to just look at, and look for, birds. There was plenty of other seeing to do, of course, and I carved out as much time as I could for that, as well.

I once took a trip, maybe around 2013 or 2014, to see my friend Claudia in Dayton, OH, and among many other reasons, I was excited to get a shot of a Black-capped Chickadee. In North Carolina, our only Chickadee was the Carolina Chickadee, and the edge of the ranges of those two species tends to be sharp, with little overlap, and well north of where I lived. Claudia was amused at my disappointment when I discovered I was still well south of the line in that particular location.

But on the way home, I noticed that the Black-capped’s range veered well south along the tops of the Appalachian Mountains, and that along Interstate 81 in Virginia, I’d cross a bit of their territory. Right about where 81 and 77 merge and then separate, about 30 kilometers off my route, there’s a state park that I decided would be a possible spot to catch a glimpse. It was drizzling rain, but maybe it would clear.

So I went to the park, and headed up an uncomfortably steep trail, and found a quiet spot to sit and wait. I was going to do my best to get one nice shot.

It started to rain, hard.

It got chilly.

I waited.

I was miserable. But I was not leaving without a photo.

Eventually the rain let up, and a flock of about ten Chickadees came my way, even fluttering around in the trees right over my head, splashing rainwater from the trees all over me. I took shots until the birds moved on.

I knew my shots wouldn’t be awesome, a solid overcast sky rarely makes for a great background, and I was basically shooting straight up, wiping the water from the lens frequently. My determination wasn’t much of a match for the suddenly uncooperative weather. But I was going to get something.

Sure enough, what I got was crap. One crappy shot that was in focus.

Virginia, 2013

That was it. That was the best shot I got.

About five years later, in New Hampshire in 2018, I got another chance to get a better photo. It was better than what I had, but I wasn’t overly thrilled with the shot itself.

White Mountains, NH, 2018

Finally, a couple of days ago, I got the shot at the top of this post. I’m finally happy I got a really nice shot of a Black-capped Chickadee, and since I now live in Seattle, I didn’t even have to go out of my way to do it. I took it from my back porch.

I’m a little worried, though. It almost feels like the truce after a seven-year battle. I feel like I need to watch out for the Revenge of the Birds.

Seattle, WA, 2020

Suck it, Chickadees.

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Louis Shackleton is an intimate portraiture artist and wildlife photographer formerly based in Wilmington, NC. After 3 years of traveling the continent in his 2001 VW Passat, he's now settled in Seattle, Washington.

Head on over to the About page to read more about him and his work.

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