Calaveras Enterprise

Meet ospreys from New Melones

Barry Boulton now uses video to capture birds’ lives.Courtesy photo

Barry Boulton now uses video to capture birds’ lives.Courtesy photo

The thousands of birds that populate the rolling hills of our foothill and Sierra landscapes never fail to fascinate us in their variety, habits and colors. Birdsongs and calls, like the warbles of red-wing blackbirds perched on fences in grasslands or the red-tailed hawks’ screeches as they loft high above a field fill the air and our lives with thrilling enjoyment, gifts nature bestows on us; all we have to do is listen to birds’ beautiful symphonies.

Barry Boulton can share hundreds of stories of the bird species he has observed in the Sierra Nevada. President of the Central Sierra Audubon Society that covers Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, he ranges widely in the area to capture birds’ behaviors and relationships on video. An improvement over static photographs – beautiful though they may be – the video “field notes” he uses in his lectures allow his audiences to see birds in action and interaction with their avian fellows.

Boulton has dabbled in serious video creation for some time and has added the art to his field work. “It has become an increasingly important part of my life, in fact, my passion.”

An osprey family is traced on Nov. 27 in Angels Camp.Courtesy photo

An osprey family is traced on Nov. 27 in Angels Camp.Courtesy photo

“When you’re concentrating on getting a good photo, you’re not really seeing the bird itself; you’re looking for a good shot with good lighting, angles, composition and so on,” Boulton said. “Single shots don’t tell you much about the bird, and certainly nothing about its behaviors and actions.”

Video has a great advantage, he says, because “once recorded, I can review the action many times as desired, slow it down, zoom in to analyze what’s happening – things you can’t do even by direct observation with binoculars.”

Before he came to live in the Gold Country, Boulton was already deeply involved in conservation work through the Sierra Club in 1994, when the California Desert Protection Act was signed into law. When he moved to this area, he joined the Central Sierra Audubon Society, first as a board member in 2006 and now as the chapter president.

Then a phone call from a newspaper set him on his present course in the world of birding. The person on the other end of the line suggested that a weekly column about birds written by a member of the society would be a welcome addition to the paper. While Boulton said he didn’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable on the subject, he threw his reservations out the window and took on the task. Boulton knew he was about to take a crash course in birding, but he had always enjoyed writing and was already a skilled photographer, and so his new adventure took flight.

“As I observed and researched, I realized that there is a rich and fascinating tapestry of cultures and living strategies among species, while individuals have personalities, rather like our cats and dogs. When you watch bird behaviors, there are always questions. Why are they doing that? How and why did that behavior evolve? Was it a cultural adaptation? I remember watching a pair of juvenile sparrows bathing in a small puddle, and it seemed to me that they were enjoying it, taking pleasure. Were they? We can appreciate that bathing is functionally good to get rid of parasites and so on, but enjoyment and pleasure? Well, that’s a different question. Could that enjoyment actually serve a survival purpose, because if you enjoy doing something healthy, you do it more often and are likely to be stronger and fitter.

“For instance, I often visit the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, where large flocks of sandhill cranes, snow geese, ducks and others spend the winter. They usually lift off in large numbers because a raptor spooks them, but very often, they spontaneously lift off in large numbers, and we wonder what triggered the liftoff. Was there a leader? Even though they’re staying here for the winter, feeding in local fields and not flying very far – basically resting until it’s time to migrate and breed in the spring, which requires great energy and stamina – they must maintain fitness. How do they maintain the discipline to exercise so that in the spring, they can migrate up to the Arctic, fight the weather, win territories, raise and feed a family and then return here for winter? Well, sheer enjoyment makes it easy.

“Since then,” Boulton continued, “I’ve taken a lot of video scenes where we can see emotion in the form of bird body language such as satisfaction, frustration, irritation, anger and pleasure.”

The deeper he delved into the realm of bird behavior, the more fascinating he found it; he was inspired to give presentations that address the topic, including bird cultures, individuals’ personalities and needs for survival. Boulton brings presentations to various community locales, providing access to large numbers of residents. His beautiful videography and formidable knowledge encourage his audiences to develop a greater sympathy for conversation and to increase the scope of the Audubon Society presence in the community.

Asked about his favorite bird, Boulton replied with delight: “It’s the one that I’m watching right now!”

He does admit that he tends to spend more time with those birds that are “easier to watch because of their relatively passive behaviors, staying in one place for longish periods while foraging, socializing, breeding or resting.”

He has extensively observed sandhill cranes, particularly at the Merced refuge and the Cosumnes River Preserve near Lodi and a major winter stopover in Nebraska. He traveled the first week in November to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, another major wintering site for cranes.

Similarly, Boulton’s time spent with ospreys to understand them makes the species of particular interest. They, too, are readily observable, making them easy to capture on video.

Manzanita Writers Press hosts a Central Sierra Audubon Society discussion with Boulton at 6 p.m. Nov. 27 at the gallery in Angels Camp. “A Family Affair: An Osprey Family Breeding at New Melones” was perfected over this past spring with support from the staff of the Bureau of Reclamation. Boulton made a video record of an osprey family, an adult pair and four chicks, that nested near the New Melones Visitors Center. Turning his lens and observation skills to the nest, he created an intriguing portrait of this magnificent bird’s family life. Boulton will explain new understandings of the relationship between adult pairs that rejoin after wintering apart to raise a new family, the parents’ bond with their offspring and the relationships the young have with one another. He will also shed light on how the osprey successfully produces families in such a short time before they migrate south on their separate journeys.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Nov. 27

WHERE: Manzanita Arts Emporium, 1211 S. Main St. (Highway 49), Angels Camp

COST: Free, reserve a space at 728-6171

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