BLOG 011 Good Scope Birdsby Jim Rataczak on 11/01/12
My friend, the terrific artist Barry Van Dusen, commented to me recently that certain birds are good “scope” birds. He knows what he’s talking about, given the countless hours he has spent behind his trusty Kowa scope, sketching birds out in the field.
I liked his characterization, and that made me think, “What makes a good scope bird”? First, scopes are a bit more unwieldy than binoculars. So good scope birds are ones that don’t move a lot, or, if they do, they regularly return to the same perch. Flycatchers do this sometimes, Shrikes too, and they are among the best of the songbird scope birds. A good scope bird must also stand out a little, not afraid to say to the world, “Here I am!” Eagles can qualify here, but not warblers. In fact, warblers, as they hyperkinetically flit from one obstructed branch to another, are the exact opposite of good scope birds. I love them, but…sorry, not good scope birds. An exception here is the Kirtland’s Warbler. In spring, male Kirtland’s will proudly perch in clear view in the tippy tops of Jack Pines, and belt out their songs with a passion that would make the Three Tenors weep. You can put your scope right on them (though you will have to travel to one particular area of Michigan to do it).
Finally, good scope birds also have to be nice to look at, which most birds are of course. One of my personal favorite birds, the Belted Kingfisher, certainly meets this criterion: Great shaggy crests, beautiful slatey-blue and rust colors, and bills that mean business. Plus, they remind me of when I was a kid, growing up on a lake that had many of these charismatic birds. Now, add to these attributes that Kingfishers will often sit for several minutes almost motionless in bare, easy-to-find spots, and you have what may be Numero Uno on the list of all-time great scope birds.
A few days ago, while out looking for ducks to sketch on our marsh, I heard the distinctive rattling chatter-call of a Kingfisher that I had unwittingly scared away from its bare, easy-to-spot perch. Dang? No, no, no…this Queen of scope birds dutifully returned to her perch about ten minutes later, and I was ready for her. I sketched her for several minutes, in various poses, before she finally flew off. Such a good scope bird was she that I came back the next day, and there she was again in the same bare, easy-to-spot perch. This time she even stuck around long enough for me to break out the watercolors, and I happily painted her right there on the spot. A good day, all hail the Queen!