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The Making of the Meadowlark Blind at the Ljósmyndir Ranch Part 3 – Safety, Light, and Background

September 11, 2021
© Jim Miller – Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

As I’ve put this series of posts together, I realized that some of the pieces are tangled together and I can’t write about one without the other. So here we are with safety, light, and background.

Part of the point of a bird blind is to convince birds either that photographers aren’t there, or the photographers don’t represent a threat to them. A good blind will decrease their circle of fear–that is how close they are willing to get to you as the photographer given all other factors. It allows the birds to act more naturally and decreases the amount of lens you need to get the images you want.

At the same time, the other point of a bird blind is to make it so photographers can easily see what is going on outside of the blind and be able to maneuver their cameras in such a way that they can make good images.

It is a balancing act. The more open space, the more likely the birds are to see the photographers, the wider the circle of fear can get until (or if) the birds get used to the visitors.

At the blinds inside Texas State Parks and other public lands, my experience is that most of them are effectively not much more than sheds modified with larger, often tilted windows. Abilene SP, San Angelo SP’s original blind (since destroyed in a storm), Lost Maples SNA, and South Llano River SP’s 4 blinds all meet this basic description. Pedernales Falls SP blind is a much nicer construction, but the tilted windows do not play well with auto focus. There are blinds in a few other Texas State Parks that I’ve not yet visited (see also my failed attempt to see the blind at Kickapoo Cavern SP on my Texas Photo Swing) that I don’t have any information on.

Most of them are pretty, but it seemed like the prettier they were, the less effective they were.

On private ranches, the blinds tend to be more functional than pretty. Construction varies from ranch to ranch, but they are all highly functional.

Given the topography of the property, the lack of availability of running water, and some other needs, we made the deliberate decision to go with a commercial structure that is effectively a modified shed. This was not without its own set of issues.

The vendor (who shall remain nameless because I’m sure that TuffShed would prefer I not share my experience), charged me a fee to modify the shed to allow the window height to be the level I wanted and then provided me with a shed that had standard window heights. I’d have to go back and look, but I’d say it took a good six weeks from the time it was initially put into place on the property until everything was right with the building.

It is a pretty building. And it does a pretty good job of helping the birds think that they are relatively safe. There are likely more things we will do to help reduce the circle of fear for the birds, but that will likely be a late fall/early winter project on the ranch.

Long before we started the design process, we spent an enormous amount of time making sure that the light was coming from the correct direction. There are typically two types of blinds: Morning blinds and afternoon blinds. In both cases, the light is coming from behind the blind. In a morning blind, the structure will typically face towards the west with the morning sun coming out of the east. In an afternoon blind, the structure will typically face towards the east with the sun setting in the west. As the sun moves in the sky from winter to summer solstices and back, the angle of where the sun is coming from changes ever so slightly. True perfect on a blind is only for a few days.

However, this lighting issue is where most public blinds get it wrong. The original orientation of the blind at San Angelo SP was notoriously bad. The blind was facing due north and the only good light days at the blind were slightly overcast days where the light was diffused and there were no true shadows anywhere.

In pointing this blind, we wanted a morning blind and we spent many days out at the property ensuring that we had our orientation right. The light that we got this summer in the blind pretty much proved that we had hit it square on.

Where we did not get it square on, as illustrated by the image that leads this post, is with background. My goal in a blind setting is to get a creamy, somewhat monochromatic background to allow the main subject pop. Green and yellow streaks dominate my background in the picture above.

All of the work we did relied on birds being fairly close to the ground. There are no trees around, and thus (we thought), no natural perches. Nature always finds a way. In this case, there are small woody perches all over the property that the Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks absolutely adore. We hadn’t planned on them perching there. Nor did we anticipate that a line of trees at the bottom of a natural flood plain, which by the way are probably a good half mile from the blind, would make sure a green presence in the images.

We have some fixes planned for this, but this will be in another blog entry somewhere down the road.

Four of six discussed. Food and water next…

About the Image
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Elbert County, Colorado – June 2021
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron 150-600 (Gen 1)
Tripod w/Wimberley gimbal head
ISO 400, 1/640 at f/13 – No Flash
Portfolio Image #1069
Image Size in Portfolio: 2395×2994

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