"OWW! NATALIE, watch where you're walking!"
"Stu Greene! What are you doing hiding behind that bush? Did I step on your foot?"
"Yes, but will you be quiet?" Stu looked up. Natalie Marshall was one of the prettiest and most sought after girls in school. Girls at her social level didn't usually talk to guys at his. Still, at the risk of offending her, he had other things on his mind. "That black bird in that tree looking at us is a snail kite. There aren't many of them around here. They're mostly in South Florida, and don't often get this far north into Central Florida. It's a significant sighting."
"Are you taking his portrait for the yearbook?" Natalie asked sarcastically.
Ignoring her tone, Stu replied, "If I can get close enough. Don't scare him away."
"Sorry, I was texting my mom to tell her I would be late from school," Natalie whispered. "I didn't mean to step on your foot."
"It's not like it's such a long walk. Can't she wait until you get there?" Stu asked snidely.
"No," she huffed. "Oh, look, he tipped his head." Natalie tipped her head as she made eye contact with the bird. "What does that mean?"
Stu glanced at her long enough to smile and said, "He's thinking. He hasn't figured us out."
Stu lifted the camera to his eye and braced the long lens with one hand, his elbow on his bent knee. The camera clicked three times.
"Did you get him? Can I look?" Natalie asked breathlessly.
"In a minute."
"He's moving his wings," Natalie said.
"He's going to fly. Back up!"
The bird hopped up, stepped off the branch, and spread its wings. Stu stood and tracked it with his camera, clicking off a frame every second or so. He stepped back and stepped on Natalie's foot. She squealed, and the bird flew away.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare it." Natalie said.
"It's okay. We can look at the pictures now." Stu smiled proudly.
He held the camera so Natalie could look in the display.
"Wow, you got so close. You can see the feathers on his head." Natalie frowned. "He looks mean."
"Actually he's not mean," Stu smiled. "He's a snail kite. Snail kites are only mean to apple snails. That's all they eat. That's why you don't see them this far north. They go where the food is."
"Oh, look, you got one with his wings spread all the way out. I can see the color under his wings. How pretty. How did you do that?"
"I caught the light. If he had turned the other way, we would have seen shadow. It's luck."
"It's not all luck. You were waiting for him. I scared him away," Natalie said. "He's been in that tree every day after school for a week. There must be apple snails in the school's retention pond."
"And you come every day to take his picture?" Natalie asked in disbelief. "Will you come back tomorrow?"
"I got the picture I wanted," Stu said proudly. "See, this one showing the coloration under his wings. I bet Mr. Daniels I could get the picture."
"What did you bet him?" Natalie asked.
"If I got the shot, I wouldn't have to cover the dance club show next week."
"Somebody has to shoot it for the yearbook."
"Not me. Samantha likes that stuff. She'd enjoy it," Stu assured her.
Natalie paused and then said, "I've seen Samantha's pictures posted next to yours in the art room. I like yours better."
"Samantha does nice stuff. I don't like most of her work, but that doesn't mean it's bad." Stu paused as he thought about Samantha's pictures. "She works hard. Sometimes I think she works too hard. It's not that tough."
"For you maybe," Natalie argued.
"With digital cameras, it's not as difficult as it used to be with film," Stu replied.
"But you still have to know what you're doing."
Stu shrugged. "A little. Mostly it's keeping your eyes open."
The snail kite passed overhead, and Stu tracked it, squeezing off a dozen shots.
"Wow, did you get any good ones?" Natalie asked.
"No, sun was in my eyes, they're just silhouettes."
"Can I see anyway?"
Stu ran through the pictures he had just taken.
Natalie pointed at the camera's display. "I like this one with his wings dark against the light clouds. Would you print me a copy?"
"Yeah, sure. Really, you like that one?"
"Yeah, it's kind of dramatic," Natalie affirmed.
"Sure, I'll print it for you."
"Hey, we need to go or your mother will be mad because you're late." Stu picked up his camera bag and backpack. Natalie lived a quarter mile away from Stu on the same street. He walked by her house on his way to school. Stu did not want to get between Natalie and her mother. He had met her mother and was wary of her.
"Doesn't your mother wonder why you're late?" Natalie asked out of curiosity.
"She knows about the snail kite. She'll want to see the pictures blown up."
"Do you take a lot of bird pictures?"
"Some," Stu said quietly.
"After we stop at my house, can I come over and look at your pictures?"
"Sure," Stu answered in surprise. Having someone of Natalie's social standing ask to come to his house was a shock.