A Life That’s Gone To The Birds

A Life That’s Gone To The Birds

 McDonough retiree continues learning as she peers at life through a long lens 

In retirement, Anne Davis has hardly slowed down. Instead she’s found herself whole-heartedly pursuing a new passion: God’s winged creatures.

Davis, a McDonough wife, mother and grandmother, was surprised to discover a stimulating life in capturing images of some of the creatures she scarcely noticed in her busy 20 years as a Rockdale County primary school educator.

It all began six years ago with a thoughtful gift. “When I retired, my co-workers gave me a retirement party and presented me with money they’d collected,” Davis said. “They asked me to use the money on myself, to get something that I would really enjoy. So I settled on getting a really nice camera, not knowing what that would involve.”

Her first efforts with the new Canon EOS Rebel digital single lens reflex camera were “less than impressive,” she said. “I went outside and shot a bunch of pictures, just clicking away, and when I went back inside, I saw that all the pictures were blurry.” I thought, “Why didn’t these turn out okay like my snapshots always did? I didn’t know there was such a science to photography,” Davis said. “So that began my journey into the unknown, of having to learn the concepts of photography… and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

While Davis said she’s learned much, she admits that after six years of painstaking effort and careful study she still has much to learn. “I’ve gotten fairly decent for an amateur,” she said.  Other photographers certainly seem to agree. 

Anne Davis 773 shares her images with others on a photo sharing website called Flickr [www.flickr.com]. “I love sharing with others. I have a license that allows others to use my images for no charge, as long as they are used for teaching or learning and not getting any financial gain from my images. I get a lot of joy from that, and observing how others are using my images.”

“The beauty of it is sharing,” she said, citing as an example an image of a plaque given to her that reads, “I am still learning. – Michelangelo.” She placed the plaque in a nature scene with green leaves in a tree and shot an image that has become something of a favorite in school circles on Flickr. The website reveals to Davis how her images are being used. “I can’t tell you how many educators have used that in their slide presentations and as journal covers.” 

“I’ve had so many benefits come from photography,” Davis said.  “I’ve learned to not be forever planning and anticipating my busy schedule, but to loosen up and enjoy the moment. And I have health benefits because nowadays in my daily walks, I’ll walk miles to get a bird picture.  It’s insane.”

There’s another big benefit, too, she said. “Before, I was a person who merely saw the big picture. I didn’t notice details. Now I’ve learned to be observant of those details, like lighting, composition, movement, and distracting objects in the foreground and background. I can’t go outside without seeing the beauty in nature and patterns of nature that I never noticed before.”

Davis joined a Flickr group of educators who each post one favorite image every day. Davis’ images are primarily of birds of every color and pattern and pose – virtually every species native to Georgia – plus a wide rainbow of flowers, interesting objects, children at play, and a variety of animals she encounters on her daily walks. One day while observing birds high above, she reacted to a rustling on the ground nearby, instinctively snapping images of the source of the sound. She came away with clear images of a rare sight, a shy mother opossum with her babies clinging to her back. 

“If I’m alert and ready I can catch some images that thrill me. But even more, it’s the learning and the sharing with others that brings me such joy.” One fellow Flickr user and educator paid Davis a compliment. “He said, ‘I love looking at the world through your eyes.’ It was the sweetest thing he could have said.”  

The Audubon Society honored her further when one of her images of a tufted titmouse (a small bird, not a rodent) was used on their website, on a page titled, “What you can do to help protect birds,” at [www.climate.audubon.org]. 

It is her images of ruby-throated hummingbirds that pose Anne Davis some of her greatest challenges. Hummingbird wings flap around 50 times per second. That creates the humming sound and makes freezing them for a good photo so difficult. On Flickr she has posted 78 images of the tiny creatures with amazing clarity and detail.

To capture the shy birds’ feeding routine, Davis places her camera on a tripod, aims the lens at the hummingbird feeder, and uses an extra-long cable to mechanically depress the shutter release from many feet away….in this case, from behind the patio door leading to the hummingbird feeder. Davis waits patiently behind the shuttered door, peering out and remotely snapping sometimes dozens of frames per minute, with her cautious subjects often none the wiser.

“Oh, it’s so much fun watching them. You learn so much. I never had any interest in birds prior to this. I knew a cardinal; I knew a blue jay; the standards. As I snapped them and wanted to post the photos in Flickr, I wanted to add a caption, so I had to look them up to identify them. That meant learning Georgia’s birds. And I love learning new things. As a teacher I always tried to get my kids to see that learning is a joy. It stimulates me.”

“I just kind of stumbled into this,” Davis said about her photo hobby. “As I took my walks, new camera in hand, the birds were there.” The challenge, and the learning, and witnessing behaviors she’d never noticed before – those elements had an irresistible tug on Davis. “Before I realized it, I was hooked.” 

By James Saxon