Friday, November 30, 2018
True confessions of a birder
I have only recently embraced the longstanding fact that I am a birder. Indeed, as I type on my computer right now I can look barely left and slightly up out my window and see a big hawk sitting in a tree. It's great.
Eh, what kind of hawk you ask?
I DON'T KNOW WHAT KIND OF HAWK!
Which brings me to the question of why, after 40 years of birding, I am only now willing to admit what has all along been true. I am only now willing to name BIRDING on my list of hobbies, placing it just below
4. Messi and the Barcelona Football Club, and just above
6. Children's Literature.
Why have I waited so long?
It is shame.
My birding life list has been stalled for eighteen years at 27. That's right. A life list total in which I can boast of having seen 27 birds. One can probably see 27 birds in a day! Sure I have seen vastly more than 27 varieties of birds in my life, but my understanding of the rules is that you have to know what kind of birds they are to count them. So the list stands at 27. Yes, I have occasionally dabbled in the books and with the wretched Internet to try and identify the birds I've seen, but, frankly, it's always ambiguous and I come to no conclusions.
I see individuals.
For instance, at the library I work at the heavyset man with a kind of swollen neck goiter, warm, slurred speech, and a penchant for anything related to flags, is surely identifiable as a member of Homo Sapiens. I mean I guess he is. I don't know. To me he is just "Roy". And so it is that when I try to look up a bird with what looks like a flake of rust stuck to its leg, and who seems to have misplaced something, I meet with no official success in the bird identification manuals, or, for that matter, with Dan, who has done some official birding and knows his birds pretty well, but always comes up blank when I need help.
Like with that Dodo I saw down on the river one Summer.
So 27 it is.
Also I don't have any binoculars. I'm extremely fond of them in theory, but in practice I find them irritating; the way they have to be just so over one's eyes, the way they never quite seem focused quite how I need, the way no matter how powerful they are I always need them to be slightly stronger.
So instead what happens is this:
I am walking out on the golf course, newly covered in snow. I see a big hawk in a tree (no, not the same hawk out the window. Just wait.). I carefully approach. Holy crap! That is not a hawk, it is an anaconda! What I took to be feathers are precise scales glinting in the morning light. Having no fear of snakes, and intrigued I venture nearer. Oh, it is not an anaconda. It is the upward pointing stump of a broken branch. What I took first of be feathers, then scales, is the pattern of snow as it combines with the bark of the oak.
I'm pretty sure there's nothing in that to add to my life list.
And so I say again: 27 it is. And that's okay. One of the hardest things to remember is that we don't have to be good at our hobbies.
When I was about halfway through writing these confessions I had a great plan for how I was going to end them. I was going to say:
And that hawk is still there.
But I'm not the fastest writer in the world, and that hawk had things to do, so it left. It flew away northwest, over a little creek and, without binoculars, I lost sight of it.
I have decided that is just as well. Now we will never know what kind of hawk it was. We can suffer our joy and ignorance together.