by Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer

11 April 2001

Today was for the birds. No, I really mean it. It really was for the birds. Before you click off, let me assure you that literally, this day was FOR the birds. This is not one of my usual rants about shooting head shots and real estate. This day, I actually had a nice feature on which to work.

Jim Pion is a senior citizen who loves birds. He has been a volunteer bird bander for a nature conservancy group which has a bird sanctuary in a wooded section of Lake Success. (If that name sounds familiar to any of you older folks, it was the site of the first headquarters of the United Nations, right after they organized it at the end of World War II.) There are a lot of upscale homes in the area and the sanctuary abuts some of the properties. That doesn't stop the birds from flocking to the bird feeders and water trays that Jim sets out to attract them. He gets quite a diverse variety. I saw birds there that I couldn't put a name to and I have had bird feeders outside of my windows for years.

Jim Pion fills one of the many bird feeders that dot the preserve in front of his work shed.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001


Pion will be retiring from his volunteer position and we are doing a story about his unsung efforts. I was happy to get the assignment. It was one of the few mild days that we've had thus far this Spring. The sun managed to make its presence known through the high clouds, which was great, because I had no harsh shadows to worry about.

Jim Pion has been netting and banding birds in a nature preserve in Lake Success and is getting ready to hand the reins over to a younger person. He is shown here removing a Chickadee from one of several nets on the preserve.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001

When I met Pion, in the early morning, he was cleaning some of the last winter's debris from the thin, fine meshed nets that are strung around the area to trap the birds. He will sit in the little shed, out of sight, until he see some birds in the net. Sometimes the birds fly into the nearly invisible mesh on the way into the feeding area, but mostly they get trapped after they have fed and attempt to fly off. Their struggles to get free usually get them more entangled so Jim tries to get to them as soon as they get trapped. The birds aren't harmed by any of this and Jim is especially careful when he handles them. They are transferred into small mesh bags and brought into the shed and the bird bearing bags are clipped to a wall with clothespins until he is ready to inspect and record their species, size, wingspan and gender. This information is written into his logbook. He then looks up the information about each bird in a comprehensive encyclopedia and it tells him what kind of a band to put on the bird's leg and what size it should be for the age of the bird.

I had no trouble photographing all of this and the light inside the shed was soft and captivating. Everything that I saw through my viewfinder made good images. I shot a lot of pixels this day. I bounced some soft fill into most shots and I dialed my SB-28 flash way back so as not to intrude on the beautiful quality of the natural light. I mixed up my shots with long shots and medium shots. The subject matter was perfect for some good, tight close-ups. I tried to tell this story in photos. It's likely that the paper will use one or two shots. But, I didn't care. There were pictures crying to be made, and I heeded their calls.

Pion held the frail creatures in his large, work worn hands and smoothed back any ruffled feathers. Perhaps the birds were perturbed by being handled by such a large creature, but they seemed docile enough. Occasionally, one would peck at his hand with a tiny beak. But, for the most part, they endured the procedure with a stoicism that I never could have mustered had the roles been reversed.

Pion measures a yellow throated sparrow.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001
And then he records all of the data into his log.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001

After taking measurements of wing span and body length and recording the details in the log, Pion checked the size and type of leg band in the encyclopedia. He would isolate one tiny leg and using a special set of pliers, he would gently crimp the metal band and the work was done.

Using a special set of pliers, Pion gently crimps a band on the fragile leg of a yellow throated sparrow.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001


And the banding is done.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001

All that would remain was for the bird to be released to the care of Mother Nature. Sometimes, however, Ms Nature would be careless and the bird would fly right back into the nets. Pion was alert to that possibilty and would release the bird from the trap and take him further away to be released.

Pion releases the banded bird back to Nature.
© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus 04/2001

I would have been content to stay the whole day with this knowledgeable man and his feathered friends. I thought that Long Island was populated with mostly sparrows, which seem to be the only ones attracted to my present home feeder. But I saw red headed woodpeckers, yellow throated sparrows, blue jays, finches, cardinals and possibly another five or six species that I couldn't identify. However, my pager went off, after about an hour and I was summoned to the world of commerce and industry for another Business Page head shot. But, I did have my day in the sun and I am happy to be able to share these pleasant moments and some of the photos with you.

See. I told you that this wasn't going to be a rant.

Dick Kraus