Words About Birds
The Passion of Birding
Birds have fascinated me all my life, but it wasn’t until I began developing my skills as a photographer that I realized I am a birder. Traveling to seek out birds of a certain species, continually adding to my life list, obsessed with anything avian related, these are some of the qualities that define me as a birder. First and foremost I am a nature lover. Whether photographing, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing or mountain biking, I am happiest amidst the natural world.
While I was kayaking along the Wild and Scenic Red River some years back a curious group of River Otters appeared nearby and lingered long enough for me to pull out my phone and snap some pixelated photos and videos. That experience inspired me to buy a quality camera so that I could be ready for my next wildlife encounter. That otter interaction was the catalyst for a snowball effect which has fueled my passion for nature photography and addiction to birding.
My camera equipment goes everywhere I do. Every time I neglected to bring my camera I regretted it, so eventually I just committed to bringing it everywhere. Sometimes I am inspired to take landscape photography, other times I dabble in macro photography of flowers and insects. Animals are my favourite subject. I think wild animals see a lot more humans than humans see wildlife. It takes a certain mindset to slow down enough to discover wildlife, which is a gift that helps nourish my positive mental attitude. Photoing wild animals is a challenge, and with great challenges comes great rewards.
On the other hand, one of the reasons I have spent more time photographing birds than other types of wildlife is simply due to their availability. If bears and bobcats came to my yard everyday I would gladly photograph them as well. For anyone interested in developing skills of photoing uncooperative moving subjects, birds are a great place to start! But there is so much more to it than just their availability. While I admire their diversity of plumage, patterns, habits and habitats, their flight is what fascinates me the most.
When I look up in the sky and see a buzzard soaring along the thermals, it seems like they have it all figured out. Sometimes it looks like they are consciously enjoying their ability to fly. Other times I watch them soaring effortlessly on autopilot and wonder if perhaps they are taking a nap. Their ability to maneuver through woodlands with such agility and confidence it will not crash or injure itself is amazing. They have evolved to be lightweight enough to counteract gravity yet durable enough to withstand a beating of the magnitude capable only in nature.
Birds are dinosaurs! Or was it dinosaurs who were birds? Both are correct. The development of gravity defying winged creatures was perfected long before humans began to record history. That is super cool. What’s more, humans have been attempting to replicate the gravity defying qualities of birds since the dawn of history. While we have learned to harness the physical properties of lift and drag sufficient enough to pilot aircrafts, we will never be able to flap our arms and lift off.
When I wander through creeks I find myself skipping stones and when I hike through the woods I might climb a tree or jump across a small gulley. To me, nature is the ultimate fountain of youth, distracting me from the rigors of reality, immersing myself in something so pure, raw and real that I feel connected to everyone and everything, my soul nourished and replenished. If time spent in nature is the fountain of youth, birds are my conduit to understanding the building blocks of who I am.
As long as I live, the sight and sound of a pileated woodpecker will bring me back to my early childhood, visiting my grandma in Roanoke, VA, who taught me to identify birds not just by sight but also by their sound. Goldfinches will always take me back to Plattsburgh, NY where my other grandma instilled upon me the importance of winter feeders. During the past few weeks I have had a lot of Goldfinches at my Thistle Seed Finch feeder and I sometimes wonder if they have ever been through Plattsburgh, and what is the likelihood they are the descendants of birds who have fed from my family’s feeders so far from here?
Then there’s the Robins. The Robin’s song was my NY grandmother’s favourite song. Her loyal son, (my dad) used to call her every night while taking his evening walk. When he heard a Robin he would hold the phone up to it, wandering through yards with his phone high overhead, looking quite peculiar to uninformed observers. When she perked up and said “Oh yes, I hear it!” It made both of their days. It’s been a joke in the family for years and I will forever smile at the sight of a Robin. Isn’t it funny how life comes full circle?
While that person gave the gift of birding to multiple generations, her son returned the favor to her, and her grandson (me) took it to the next level. As my dad’s passion for birding had waned over the years, my contagious passion has infected him and revived a dormant love. He had a detached retina several years ago and after surgery he was unable to use binoculars. One day while I was checking out a new birding “hot spot” I saw someone not wielding a camera or binoculars but instead she had on a tripod a large monocular. A lightbulb went off. I gave my dad a monocular for Christmas (one small enough to carry while on his daily walks). He carries it everywhere, his peeper, as he calls it!
Birding is in my blood. I have always loved birds but only realized within the past few years that birding is my Eden. When I am sad, birding makes me happy. When I am happy, birding makes me happier. When I am confused I find answers while focused on birds, answers often having nothing to do with birds! When I am lonely the birds provide me with great company and insight. And do you know what is best about birding? The joy of birding expands as it is shared. The only thing I love as much as birding is talking about birding and inspiring others to find themselves in the world of birds. I hope to see you out there one day. Happy birding!