DURING the off-season the devotee of the rod and reel is generally supposed to find diversion in overhauling his apparatus and counting the days until he can use it again. Likewise the sportsman with the gun is lovingly wiping his beloved instrument and fingering the triggers, while memory and imagination run riot. The student of birds is never reduced to such dire extremity, not while health and vigor continue. Yet, though the activities of the field are extended throughout the year, a very real part of the work, fortunately, is for the indoors which permits of the continuance of the recreation during evenings, and especially in the inclement periods when home is the most attractive spot on earth. For such times there are a number of lines of employment and research in reference to birds which are extremely fascinating.
First, one naturally thinks of the literature of the subject, which is now abundant, diversified, rich in interest and excellence, and further- brightened by admirable illustration. To give a catalogue and description of all the books on birds would almost require a hand-book of bibliography. One may secure abundant information at the public libraries, the larger bookstores, and from publishers. Yet some general lines of reading may be suggested.
One of these is concerned with further information as to various birds which we have tried in vain to find. It may be that we have been delighted to find some uncommon nest, and we have a great curiosity to learn how other observers have fared, how their experience corresponds with ours. If it be that we have had poor success in finding certain nests, or have come into a region where there are unfamiliar species, I know from my own experience that it is most fascinating to read everything that can possibly be found upon the subject. In this connection, such a book as Chapman’s “Warbler Book” is a model for facts about some species, being a mass of detailed information from various observers in different localities as to their own experiences with that bird. Major Bendire began this line of writing in his two initial volumes on the ” Life Histories of North American Birds,” which splendid series, unfortunately, was stopped by his death, but which we fervently hope may somehow be continued.
Another line of reading might be called the inspirational type in which are retailed the experiences of the author with the birds afield and his thoughts and descriptions of them in their life-setting. This may be very artistically and charmingly done, from a literary standpoint, as in the writings of Frank Bolles. The hunting of birds with the camera instead of the gun is opening up a distinctly new literature, with broad possibilities. The economic side of ornithology is becoming a most vital question, and it is both interesting and useful to inform oneself upon the subject. Such a book, among others, is that of Mr. E. H. Forbush, ” Useful Birds and Their Protection,” which is not only admirable, but interesting as well. If once we get started along some of these lines, in connection with practical experience afield, it will open up a life-long pleasure. For structural and scientific aspects, treated in a popular way, I would suggest C. Wm. Beebe’s book,” The Bird,” which is a mine of general information.
Another line of recreative effort has to do with the recording and making permanent what we have ourselves experienced. The writing of the narrative journal has been referred to. While it is well to do this as soon as possible after the events have transpired, if careful jottings have been made it can be left till the rush of the busy season afield is over, when it becomes delightful to live over again the happy times.
The writing need not be for oneself alone. Indeed, if one has observed unusual or interesting episodes of bird-life and what active field-worker does not? such things ought to be shared with the public. The ornithological publications want these things, and so do some of the special outdoor periodicals. Many newspapers are glad to use items of this sort. There may be little if any money in it, yet it is well worth while, if only for the sake of the pleasant acquaintances and associations which it secures. The general literary field is a harder one to enter, yet from the ranks of the amateur contributor the nature-writers of the future are to come. Much possible inspiring literature may be lost if the new generation of lovers of the birds hide their light under the bushel or bury their talent in the earth.
The bird-lover who uses the camera has a wide realm of fascinating winter or evening employment opened up. First, and possibly more prosaic, yet interesting to the collector, those negatives, the trophies of the chase, must be cared for. Manila envelopes or ” negative preservers,” of the right size, should be secured from the photo dealer, and each negative placed in an envelope, labeled, and catalogued. If the series ever gets as large as mine — which now numbers some five thousand, and is rapidly growing — this will take a good many evenings.
In various cases the image of the bird needs to be enlarged, to make the best possible picture. If it be perfectly sharp it can be successfully thrown up from two to four diameters. For this there are various methods. A single enlargement on bromide or velox paper can be made, but personally I prefer to have an enlarged negative from which I can print at will, on any sort of paper. For this I use the daylight process, simply placing two cameras with long bellows on a board with an upward slant at a window looking out upon a clear, unobstructed sky space.
They are set face to face, with one ordinary photo-graphic lens between them to make the image, and a dark cloth thrown over the junction to keep out extra rays. The ground glass is removed from the front camera and the negative inserted in its place, or set close in front if it be of larger size and only a part of it is needed to enlarge. Then it is simply a matter of adjusting the bellows. For enlarging, the front bellows is short and the rear one long, and vice versa for reductions to make lantern slides. After securing a sharp focus, the plate-holder is inserted in the rear camera and an exposure made by the bulb.
The same rapid plates may be used as afield, if more convenient, but I advise securing a slower grade, which are easier for the inexperienced to handle. With the latter, with the lens wide open, a usual interval for exposure with a normal good, rather plucky negative, would be about two seconds against a bright sky, and more according to the light. Overexposure will make a flat, gray picture, not as good as the original.
This process secures a positive. After that is developed, fixed, and dried, some evening a contact negae must be printed from it. Simply put the positive in a printing frame, film side up, and lay a plate upon it, the sensitized sides in contact. Expose this to a white light, a foot away, for a short interval and develop. The time must be found by test, according to the light used. One or two seconds is usually enough one foot from an ordinary kerosene lamp or gaslight turned down quite low. A few plates spoiled in a good test will be well expended, and the result should be written down for future use. If rightly timed and properly developed in each case, the enlarged print should appear just as strong and bright as the original, and even more so, if de-sired.
If the original was weak or flat, the final result can be greatly improved by such a process, either with or without enlargement. Should it need strengthening only to a slight degree, simply develop both the new positive and negative for contrast, being careful not to over-expose, and to carry the development to the full. If the original is decidedly weak, make the best possible print from it on contrastive glossy velox, or similar paper, and then photograph the print, being careful to choose a light that will not show up the grain of the paper, preferably one coming from both sides, by the use of a mirror. Develop this for contrast, and the result may give a pleasant surprise the dead restored to life.
The above suggestion was only for the enlargement of a part of a negative, to a 4X5 size. But to make. larger negatives, as I do, from which to print pictures for framing — 8×10 or x 1X14 — if one is ingenious with tools it is not hard to improvise a rude rear camera, merely a light-tight box, one section to slide inside the other, instead of having bellows, and a place for the large holder at the rear. The holder can be either bought or made, as, for that matter, can the camera. To avoid the expense of two large plates for each picture, make the positive by contact, and enlarge for the negative. This can be done also when a 5X7 is to be made from a 4×5.
By all means try lantern-slides. It is a very pretty process, and may be made a very pleasant social feature. Buy the regular lantern-slide plates, of the uniform American size, 3 1/4 inches by 4. To use them in the larger-sized plate-holder, either buy or make a frame or ” kit ” which will hold them in place, and mark off on the ground-glass in pencil the exact range that it will occupy when in position to he exposed. Then proceed exactly as above described, either reducing the size if the whole picture is wanted, enlarging if the image of the bird is too small, or, as it is easier if the size be right, printing by contact in the dark-room. Metol-hydro, of moderate strength, makes a good developer, though hydroquinone by itself is safer for beginners, if the temperature of the room can be kept about 65 to 70 degrees. Brilliancy and detail are desirable in lantern-slides, and the skies usually should be clear glass. If the slide is overexposed and blackens, do not hurry it out of the developer, but leave it till the image is very strong through the back, no matter how black it gets. After fixing and before washing, clear it to the right degree with the red prussiate before mentioned. This can also be used locally to wipe out all fog from the sky by simply applying it with a swab of absorbent cotton, not allowing it to run on the wrong place, and having water for rinsing ready for instant use.
It is easy to learn to color lantern-slides success-fully, which adds much to their popular effectiveness if reasonably well done. I recommend the so-called Japanese transparent water-colors which come in booklet form, with the coloring matter deposited on the pages, tiny pieces being snipped off and put into water. It is very fascinating work and not difficult. Buy with the colors a booklet about coloring lantern-slides and try it. One can also in the same way utilize the positives made in enlarging for transparencies, to be hung before lamp or window, colored if one wishes, and bound with a plain glass over the film in front to protect it and a ground glass behind to show off the picture better, unless it is to be in front of a lamp shade, when the latter will not usually be necessary, and perhaps not anyway.
For prints to be colored, a paper with a non glossy matte surface should be used. Matte velox or similar paper is good, but platinum, though expensive, is the best and most durable. Platinum requires a plucky or brilliant negative as for solio, and velox a soft negative, with good detail but not too strong contrasts. If the negative is intended for velox, the development of the plate should be stopped sooner than otherwise. For coloring prints the ordinary best water-colors should be used, and not the transparent lantern-slide colors, which presumably are all aniline, and would probably tend to fade if kept in the light. If the lantern-slides are kept in boxes or drawers, they will not fade perceptibly for a long time.
It is well to have albums of prints of all pictures thought worth saving and keep them up to date by printing, each winter at least, the series of the previous season. Should anything happen to the negatives, as by a fire, the prints could be copied, and one would not lose the whole accumulation of years. Should a valuable negative be lost or broken, it could then be replaced. In the case of specially valued pictures, it is very gratifying to have them framed on the walls, enlarged or colored if desired.
From the above hints it can be seen what a delightful program of fascinating indoor work may be enjoyed by the bird enthusiast. This will do much to make the periods of disagreeable weather thoroughly enjoyable and keep the mind that has the instincts of the naturalist satisfied and content till the spring returns, the birds sing, and again we can be much of the time outdoors.