What We Learned Yesterday

by Kevin Shank | Jan 1, 2023 | 0 comments

MacGillivray's Warbler
This is the result from my first effort. The camera was handheld. Photo © Kevin Shank.

“The bird must be here,” I stated to the family as we approached the parking lot of Lake Shenandoah. Birders with cameras and binoculars in motion told an unspoken story.

As soon as I parked, everyone piled out.

“Where are my binoculars?” Cheryl asked. “Didn’t we bring any binoculars?”

Sadly, we hadn’t. Everyone assumed someone had loaded them. Not one pair was anywhere!

Tripods were set up and cameras attached to them.

“Where is the third camera? Didn’t we bring the camera with the Sigma lens?”


For a week a MacGillivray’s Warbler had been in the area. We had come twice before, the first time with no success. The second time, just two days ago, we found him, and I was able to get a few shots. They were mostly no good, but one in a tree was acceptable.

We were not particularly prepared for photography—just one camera for three photographers—and the bird was very elusive. It was nigh impossible for each photographer to have a turn at this rarity.

And turns were what we wanted. This bird was over a thousand miles from home. Only two other times has there been a confirmed sighting of a MacGillivray’s Warbler in Virginia—ever.


Well, at least today we had two cameras. That was an improvement. The children could each have one for starters.

“This camera doesn’t have a memory card!” Adrian exclaimed in dismay.

Indeed it didn’t. We searched two camera bags—no cards. We searched the vehicle. No cards.

My mind raced. What could I do? Rain was forecasted for just hours away, and it was to continue on/off for days. This might be our last chance.


“Diane, this is Kevin. Are you trying for the warbler today, by any chance?”

“I hadn’t decided yet. I’ve seen it several days. I was thinking I might go somewhere else but hadn’t made up my mind yet. What do you need?”

What do I need? How could she guess? Okay, I don’t recall exactly what she said…maybe she didn’t ask. But she COULD have asked this because she had previously loaned me a hot battery when ours died while photographing a Willet—a bird only sighted for the second time ever in our county. Shaphan had discovered it by our lake. Within minutes, Diane and a few other birders were there. I had gone to the lake with a camera, only to learn the battery was just about depleted. But I digress…

“We got to the lake and the bird is there, but we are short a memory card. I thought if there was a chance you were coming, maybe you would have one we could borrow.”

“I’ll leave in about five minutes and be there in less than five more. Does your camera take Compact Flash cards? That is all I have.”

“No, only SD or CFExpress. Thanks anyway. I’ll keep on driving to a store.”

I pulled into the first Walmart I came to. Believe it or not, they did not have a memory card. It is the tiniest Walmart I’ve ever been to—only food and pharmacy, I think.

Ten minutes later at another Walmart, I found memory cards. But what about the missing binoculars?

I had already decided what I would do. Buy a pair or two, then either offer them to our customers as gently used, or give them as awards to winners of an upcoming contest. Either way, I could move them along.

No one was at the sporting counter, and the binoculars were under the cabinet. I would have to go.

As I turned to leave, I spied the gentleman who could help me. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way back to the lake. Just another fifteen or twenty minutes, and we should be back in business….

Turning into the parking lot, I observed the warbler flit out of the weeds and relocate into the patch a little farther away.

I hurriedly got a memory card out of the packaging and gave it to Cheryl. With both cameras ready for action and a recent sighting of the bird, it will be just a matter of time now, I thought.

But that was not to be. The bird had been quite active while I was gone, and Cheryl did get a couple of reasonable photos. The bird was in the distance, and the low light hindered feather detail some, but overall the photos were delightful to have nonetheless.

But the minutes went by…an hour…the bird was now rarely showing itself. And when it did pop up for a few moments, it was in front of other birders, not us.


The short photo opportunity I had the previous evening had its own curly-cues. When the bird suddenly appeared and landed on some weeds at the edge of patch, I depressed the shutter and held it down until the bird fluttered deeper into the weeds.

I should not have done that. For the focus mode I was in, I should have shot in bursts with brief pauses, so the camera could “grab” a new focus. As it was, the camera struggled to find the “right” spot with so many weeds and such a tiny subject on them. Those photos taken were a total failure. Had I allowed the camera to grab a new focus, maybe a picture or two would have been successfully sharp.

Our plan for yesterday was for three cameras. What one person missed capturing like I had the evening before, perhaps the neighboring photographer would capture. But you know how that goal went.

MacGillivray's Warbler
Sharp weeds were not my goal. Photo © Kevin Shank.

So what did we learn? I suspect you can list off some things for us. It doesn’t take me telling you. On the bright side, here is your opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others.

I could talk about photography/birding trip checklists. But we have those. They didn’t work. Or was it that we just didn’t work them? A spare SD card could be kept in the vehicle for those times a well-stocked camera bag is discovered to be other-than-stocked.

Enjoy the moment for what it is rather than getting too bogged down by what you thought it could have been. After all, we could have stayed home and worked on this magazine and school studies and missed the experience altogether. What a bore that would have been, in comparison! We DID get to see the elusive flutter-budget. And Cheryl DID get some fun pictures. Plus, there is tomorrow.

MacGillivray's Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler. Photo © Cheryl Shank.
MacGillivray's Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler. These are photos Cheryl took yesterday. Her camera was mounted on a tripod—always a good choice. Photo © Cheryl Shank.

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