9 June 2016. Flamboro ON. My dad taught me all I knew about photography – at least for the first decade or two of my life. He was an ambitious amateur photographer but perhaps most talented when developing film and printing his own work. One of his lessons was about the quality of evening light, something like, “Sometimes the late-day light can be quite flattering, but there’s too much red in it to come out well in a photograph.” That was in the post-war years, when fold-up cameras were loaded with rolls of monochrome Kodak or Ilford film. Instamatics were still a decade or two in the future and the digital revolution half a century away.
That ‘…late-day light can be quite flattering’ phrase came back to me last night when I had the opportunity to capture some long-distance shots of this, Bird of the Day, Purple Finch.
I was in a small marsh waiting for nightfall to start a survey of frog vocalisations; a survey which I had to abandon in the end because the temperature dropped below the effective survey threshold. As I waited I checked some known spots for bird activity, but it was getting late and slow going. A Veery came out to the woods to decide whether I was a threat, but it was the only bird I saw well other than the Purple Finch. But I could hear the songs and calls of White-throated Sparrows, Northern Waterthrushes and a Virginia Rail; all noteworthy birds. A Green Heron flapped away and settled on the tip of a far-off dead Silver Maple from which it could oversee crowds of fussing Red-winged Blackbirds periodically rising from the Cat-tail marsh.
My dad was right about evening light and flattery. It probably wouldn’t have helped with many bird species but Purple Finches are washed raspberry red anyway and since shooting against the bright sky added a risk of ending up with a rather meaningless silhouette, I was quite happy with the result.