BIRDS OF A FEATHER — Photographic Inspiration Along the Canal
Since the development of photography, this technology has been used to record important events, inspiring vistas, family gatherings, and simple pleasures. Photographs help give context to a place and time.
If you are familiar with our Facebook Page, you have seen many images provided by two outstanding photographers who generously share their talent with us weekly. Sometimes it is challenging to choose which image to post next.
Our photographer in the northern part of the towpath is Carole Mebus. She is a great photographer and has a deep knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. Carole is exceptionally knowledgeable about birds, often using their bird calls to guide her way.
If you have tried to photograph a bird, you know it can be frustrating. The little creatures won’t sit still. But Carole has a talent for finding and capturing birds in a unique and artistic way.
We are also blessed to have a photographer in the southern section of the towpath, Judy Greger. Judy will tell you she has learned a great deal from Carole and has become an excellent photographer in her own right. Judy has a great talent for finding and capturing patterns made by nature. Whether it is ice crystals forming on the Canal or glistening autumn leaves, Judy finds beauty in the seemingly random order found around us.
A Tale of Two Nature Lovers
Even though these women share a passion for nature and photography, their backgrounds are very different. Carole taught in the Easton School District for many years and became an environmental advocate after taking a summer course on Ecology at Lehigh University with Dr. Francis Trembly, the curriculum creator for the conservation major and head of the Ecology Department at Lehigh. At the time, he warned of DDT’s dangers on the Bald Eagle populations. As Carole points out, in the 1970’s, only two active bald eagle nests existed in Pennsylvania. Today, there are 300.
And while Carole spent a lot of time on walks and bird counts, she was not a photographer. That interest came when her husband gave her a camera for her retirement from teaching. From there, Carole has continued looking for just the right photograph.
Judy’s photographic journey was a bit different. She and her husband, another avid conservationist nicknamed “Mr. Earth Day”, were frequent visitors to the towpath. Judy would take her point-and-shoot camera on walks and was very disappointed with the results. So much so that she decided to enroll in a photography class at Bucks County Community College. The teacher asked the students to bring their cameras to class, and when he saw what Judy had been using, he said simply “That is not a camera.”
Since then, Judy has invested in better equipment, which has paid off. From Red-shouldered hawks to Blue dasher dragonflies, Judy’s images capture the true nature of her subjects.
Trends in Bird Populations
Both Judy and Carole have noticed changes in the bird populations over the years. While it’s true we have seen a growth in the number of bald eagles in Bucks County, other species have not fared as well. Carole has seen the disappearance of Evening Grosbeaks at her bird feeder. Purple finches seem to have been replaced by House finches. And birds that would typically call southern climes their home have become more common in Pennsylvania.
Judy has also noticed a change in the bird populations in the Washington Crossing area. She rarely sees cormorants or egrets; however, the Great Blue Heron populations and Red-shouldered hawks are doing quite well. Both photographers noted that Bluebirds, a favorite photographic subject, seem abundant. This may be due in part to the numerous bluebird houses that residents throughout the county have installed.
Not Just Birds
When not capturing images of our avian neighbors, Carole and Judy love taking pictures of butterflies, dragonflies, and other canal-side creatures. Carole said she became a bit obsessed with butterflies about ten years ago. One of her favorite spots to photograph is the zinnia patch at Trauger’s Farm. The vibrant flowers in the field punctuate the beauty of the butterflies.
Carole and Judy may differ in their locale (remember, Bucks County is a very long county), however they share a similar approach to their photographic endeavors. Both rely on serendipity, the excitement of not knowing what you may see, and the expectation that something magical just might appear for the perfect shot.
A Closing Note
We don’t know if you have ever tried taking a picture of a bird, but they can be the most difficult subjects. They fidget and flit. They can’t seem to sit still. And the minute one appears to want to cooperate, some friends fly by, and off they all go. It takes patience and perseverance to become good at capturing these creatures in their habitat. So, hats off to Carole and Judy for their skill, artistry, and willingness to share with all of us.
SOURCES FOR THE NOVICE BIRDER IN ALL OF US
The Canal inspires artists of every kind. Painters, poets, and photographers have all tried to capture the beauty of this landscape.
If you are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the birds found along the Canal and beyond, our photographers shared some resources you may want to consider.
Both Carole and Judy recommend the The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds as one of the best bird-identifying resources. The Sibley Guide to Birds is another recognized resource.
If you are interested in bird calls (which is often how bird populations are counted), they recommend Merlin, the phone app developed by The Cornell Lab. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website is a great source for information.
The Friends website has Flora and Fauna Galleries which feature many of the photographs we have shared over the years.
BIRD WALKS AND NATURE CENTERS
If you are a novice birder, you may want to join some of the local bird walks that take place throughout the county. Here are a few places that organize bird walks along with their contact information.
Bucks County Audubon Society, New Hope, PA offers bird walks on the first and third Saturdays throughout the year. bcas.org/calendar
Bucks County Birders, Churchville, PA: Monthly lectures (except December) as well as monthly birding trips to drivable locations.
Churchville Nature Center, Churchville, PA: They offer walks every Saturday morning from October through February 8AM–10AM and March through September from 7–9AM.
Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary, Easton, PA: Check with the Preserve Manager on the availability of weekly walks.
Peace Valley Park and Nature Center, Doylestown, PA: Along with events, the park offers a birding guide and binoculars to borrow. peacevalleynaturecenter.org
Silver Lake Nature Center, Bristol PA: Free Birding Walks, Saturday Mornings. See website for details: silverlakenaturecenter.org/things-to-do/activitiesworkshopstrips/
Both Carole and Judy have taken advantage of their local community colleges, Bucks County Community College and Northampton Community College.