Did you ever have the feeling that someone was watching you? It happened to me the other day. Now, you are probably saying, “Hey, no big deal, it happens all the time”. Yeah, that may be true, but in my case, I was standing next to my vehicle in what is typically referred to as “the boondocks”. I am telling you, there were no people, no houses, nothing but undeveloped land with an occasional pine tree or pepper bush. Not the best location to be in when that feeling pops into your head…it was downright scary.
I know what you are thinking, what a great setting for a tabloid cover story. “Alien disguised as a pepper bush eats photographer” or “Photographer is victim of UFO drive-by abduction”. I have to admit, some of those thoughts did flash through my mind as I cautiously turned and headed back to my vehicle.
Just as I reached for the door handle, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and I froze in place. The creature that was watching me stood a mere fifteen feet away. My fear was quickly replaced by panic and the tabloid headlines flashing through my mind were now reading, “Black bear dines on local paparazzi” or “Bear attack definitely not a Kodak moment”.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I turned to face the threat. Expecting to see a purple people eater or a critter with large, sharp teeth, I was relieved to find nothing waiting to pounce on me. However, just as I thought I was in the clear, I saw movement again. Aha, this time as I turned in the direction of the threat I was able to zero in on my nemesis. There it was, a dark almost black eye staring at me from behind the branches of a nearby pepper bush. With a sigh of relief and a quiet chuckle, I quickly realized my tormentor was not a threat at all. It was nothing more than a very curious Florida scrub jay.
As we made eye contact, the circumstances were reversed. The jay froze and then immediately tried to act as though it was not watching me. Its look of total innocence reminded me of when I was a kid and got caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Any moment I was expecting to hear “Who me…no…no, I wasn’t watching you, honest”.
Well, never one to miss an opportunity to capture a great photo, I cautiously approached the pepper bush. The last thing I wanted to do was scare off my little friend. However, as I neared the bush, I was suddenly aware of more than one set of eyes peering out at me. Now I am beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea. Florida scrub jays are a fairly docile critter, but so are dogs until they form up into a pack. As I continued toward the bush, more and more eyes were becoming visible.
I counted over a dozen sets of eyes peering out at me and I was now standing less than five feet from the bush. Suddenly, I was reminded of the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds” and I immediately stopped advancing.
Just when I thought everything was okay and I was going to capture some awesome photos, there was an unbelievably loud noise. Apparently, the jays had a different idea and flew the coop. Now, I have to say that unless you have experienced it, you cannot even begin to imagine the noise created by over a dozen panicked jays flying off into the sunset.
Well, it looks like the only shots I’m going to come away with are the twenty or so I took of the ground and sky as I instinctively put my hands up to protect myself from the fleeing birds. In doing so, I accidently pushed and held the shutter release button as some of the jays flew directly over my head.
I guess on the bright side, at least they did not unload dinner as they passed overhead. A quick check of my pants assured me that I had not done the same thing during my panic.
Just as I thought all was lost, the jays started returning to the pepper bush. One by one, they flew in and strange as it may sound, they were now openly observing me. Not wanting to waste an excellent opportunity, I raised my camera and began snapping pictures. After a while, I almost had the feeling they wanted to have their picture taken…well, maybe not, but at least they were not flying away.
Florida scrub jays are one of the most trusting birds I have ever come across. One can only speculate if this is the cause of, or the result of, their threatened species status. Although I only spent a short time with the jays, I truly enjoyed my visit and those precious moments will always occupy a special place in my book of memories.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It does not get any better than this…well, unless you are talking about winning the lottery with a dollar ticket. That might just be a step up from this story.
Even though my wife, Ann, is not mentioned in this story, I have to fess up and tell you Ann was with me every step of the way. Well, maybe not when the jays panicked and exited the pepper bush directly over my head. No, she was sitting in our vehicle laughing her head off at the sight of me ducking for cover. She puts up with my antics and I love her for it…did I mention she is also a great cook?
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, always wear a hat if you're out photographing birds.
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