looking into the sun

I saw a pair of Black Phoebes flycatching from branches overhanging Los Gatos creek, and I waited patiently for them to fly to the trees behind me so I didn’t have to try to shoot right into the sun.  But of course, they didn’t cooperate, so I kept adjusting where I stood to see if I could get more than just a dark silhouette of their shape.  The results were better than I had expected — mainly because backlighting illuminates things you might not have seen otherwise.

black phoebe-

I never saw all the spider webs suspended from the branches of the small tree on which the birds were perched.

black phoebe-

Facing into the sun might be a good hunting strategy for these flycatchers, since their insect prey would be backlit and more easily detected against a gray background.

black phoebe-

Another and more colorful attempt to try to separate the bird from its background —

black phoebe-

Insect prey might be harder to detect against this mottled background of cattails than the monotone gray of the morning sky.

I’ve often wondered why hawks face into the sun when hunting from telephone pole perches.  Kestrels, in particular, will sit on phone lines facing directly into the setting or rising sun, which you would think would produce a lot of interfering glare in their eyes. But if it’s a consistent behavior, then there must be some advantage to it.  Bird vision is far superior to our own, with higher densities of color detecting cells, sensitivity to ultra-violet light, and two areas of acute focus instead of one, to list a few of the differences. Perhaps glare-reducing eyeshades are another feature of avian vision that enables them to detect prey.

5 thoughts on “looking into the sun

  1. Interesting, artful post, thank you. I was intrigued by the suggestion that birds have more than one area of acute focus, for which I’ve managed to find more information, so thanks for that, too. From what I gather, it appears that the complex structure of the eyes of birds still contain many mysteries, and not all species are born equal. Cameras make stunning images but I can’t help thinking that they pale by comparison to the vision of the world that birds have, and your post outlines that difference adroitly.

    • Thanks, Mike. I was pleased that these shots turned out — especially since I didn’t have the sun shade for the lens with me. I usually avoid taking photos when shooting right into the sun.

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