Monday, November 21, 2011

"To Acquire the Bird"

I enjoy reading about music, books and ideas, cuisine, and birding, and I've found some nice  blogs that offer some great information and photos.

My favorite cooking blog, Baker's Banter from King Arthur Flour, offers clear prose, helpful photos, and a forum wherein readers can share questions and ideas. That blog has, in large part, inspired me to photograph and write about about my own cooking experiences (check the "Recipes" heading in subject index below). I enjoy The Old Foodie, which is an amusing, fascinating, highly addictive exploration of food history, food in history, the evolving language of food, and the history of cooking. A lovely read for those of us who love cooking, eating, history, and language.

The best birding blogs, rich with detail and beautiful photographs, are also excellent teaching tools, and have helped me refine my identification skills and deepen my understanding of bird behavior. Check out David Sibley's blog for expert tips on identification and behavior, or the Colorado Field Ornithologists' Photo Quiz for some real challenges! The Stokes Birding Blog is a great place for beginning birders to learn more about commonly-seen birds (especially feeder birds), and the photographs are exquisite.

Of course, the above-named blogs are written by expert, elite birders, who have literally written the books on birding. There are many others, written by birders of all skill levels and with all sorts of motivations for birding. Following blogs on these topics is a nice way to learn more about how other people experience the pleasure of birding. Some bloggers have a zeal for photography, and use their blogs to share some amazing photos.

And of course, some bloggers write about their chasing and twitching and ticking and dipping -- that is, their efforts to find rare birds and check them off on their lists. For many birders, this is the raison d’être of birding: to tally the greatest numbers of distinct species they have seen. They keep track of the species they've seen in particular towns, counties, states, and countries and all sorts of other metrics. While I find their efforts interesting, I'm often struck by their seeming indifference to the bird they're chasing, other than its value to their lists.

For example, this morning, on the blog of a birder in a distant state, I read the author's essay about his efforts to "tick" a rare hummingbird that he had never been able to add to his state list. The essay detailed his excitement that one of the birds had showed up not five miles from his house, and his successful trip to see it. He had leisurely looks at the bird, took some nice close-up photos and shared them in the post, and discussed the niceties of differentiation between this species and a bird that is very similar.

But he seemed not to even notice the bird itself as a living creature, other than as a "tick" for his list. He wrote nearly 1000 words about this bird and his efforts to see it, with plenty of detail about his lists and the relative width of the outer tail feathers (important in identification of this species), Fine. But where was his sense of wonder and delight at this bird's amazingly long journey, a thousand miles out of its typical range? Where was any comment at all about the beauty of the bird, about the subtleties of color and plumage? Where was any remark about the fortitude of this tiny bit of feathers, flying so far on its grand adventure? Not even a word or two about its behavior during his brief observations? Nope -- for this birder, this was all about getting the bird on his list. In fact, it was this sentence stopped me in my tracks:

I put a call out to some of my other like minded birding acquaintances, and soon had a full carload ready to head out before dawn yesterday morning to acquire the bird.

To acquire the bird. To get it, to have it, to own it, to acquire it.

To acquire it?

That seems rather limited, and bit sad.

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