Here’s the ‘condensed’ chronology of how I became that someone who is not a birder:
- Age 0 to 4: My first (and only) nanny was a German Shepherd.
- Also, age 0 to 4, born into a family of animal lovers and mushroom foragers.
- Age 5 to 13: Living as an expat in Europe, left to my own imagination, I wandered the woods with my brother, and checked out every How and Why Wonder Book in the school library.
- Age 13 to 14: Pondered the injustices of life at the local stream, just waiting for a fish — something living — to show up in the current — something living that wasn’t my middle school bully, Denise.
- Age 15 to 20: Largely a blur. Learned to love beer. 🙂
- Age 21+: Besides the beer, booze and general mayhem, got my first issue of Mother Jones from a friend, and a copy of Animal Factories (Singer) and decided the world needed changing.
- Age 22-29: You don’t want to know.
- In fact, you may not want to know any of this, but you’re stuck with it now.
- Age 30+: World still not changed, but lots of cat hair on my clothes from volunteer job as “cat socializer” at a local shelter.
- Also age 30+: Got a bird feeder from my cat sitter, an enthusiastic birder. Made kitty’s (and my) life from inside window much more interesting.
- Age 40+: World still not changed, but lots of scat on my clothes from volunteer job as wildlife rehabilitator.
- Also age 40+: Started bird-watching and photographing wildlife for real … and became especially fond of California Beach Hoppers and the Shorebird Nation.
Why, It Seems, I Am Not a Birder
Which leads to the “I am not a birder” part. Somewhere between identifying my first Great Egret as a “stork” … and syringe-feeding antibiotics to a Cedar Waxwing, I became what I thought was a birder. I love birds, always have, even if I didn’t ID them correctly. I was spending every free moment photographing and learning about them in the Bay Area wilds.
One day, however, I naively called myself a “birder” in the presence of a super-birder on a park trail. His response to me was: “You are not a birder. You are a bird watcher.”
The second phase of this identity crisis came a few months later when I was out photographing raptors and woodpeckers in an East Bay park and watershed and encountered another super-birder on another trail. We watched a raptor fly toward us over the reservoir with what I saw as the distinct rump patch of a Northern Harrier. I said, “hey, here comes a harrier,” to which he replied, “You called it too soon! Never call it too soon! What you think is a white rump patch could be a reflection from the sun.”
Formative. Almost as formative as missing World History class because Dee Eilertson locked me in the girls’ john.
For the record, the raptor was a Northern Harrier. But what do you think? Do I now wait an extra minute before I call a bird in the presence of others who know better? Maybe, maybe not. As my mate Hugh is fond of saying, quoting Helen Keller, “life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Bird Watcher, Bird Photographer, and Lover of the Commons
I’m not troubled by the designation “bird watcher.” I watch birds, it’s true. And I watch birds through the lens which makes the experience of bird watching — and any wildlife watching — a quest for light, iridescence, texture and emotion. It explains (in part) my deep fondness for the common species, the ones you, I and we see almost everyday: pigeons, crows, gulls. Because I sit a lot and wait for my subjects … wait for the light, wait for seamlessness, the moment when the bird’s eye, her blink, her shake of the feathers connects with me through the viewfinder. A fellow Olympus shooter/acquaintance of mine writes:
“I sit and wait for them to come to me. (Sometime I sit and wait and they don’t come.)”
When someone like a pigeon does come, she flies into frame, lands — then bobs her head to the left, catching all visible light. And then, the plumage of her neck fills the lens like a starburst galaxy.
And Now … the Geese!
And so it is with geese. A lot of people in this park walk or run by because they are, after all, Canada Geese. Well, there was the one woman yesterday who set her great dane loose on the flock, just for fun. The woman dashed off on a run while dog chased half the flock into Lake Union. Grrrr. I try to choose my wildlife battles wisely these days. And all geese were unharmed and accounted for. A serious call-and-answer, “are you okay” session ensued between the lake geese and the land geese (who could not see their flock members over the hump of the hill).
Ducks and geese are such a significant part of any birder’s or bird watcher’s (or photographer’s) autumn … and I loved that these geese were framed in the rusty hues of the season.
Oh, and … I love Canada Geese