What Bird Watching SHOULD Be

Bird - Blue Jay
Bird – Blue Jay (Photo credit: blmiers2)

I’ve never REALLY gotten into bird watching, in the traditional sense.  You know what I mean… seeing a bird, marking it off in my book, moving on to the next bird in a competitive fashion (kind of like that horribly boring and annoying movie “The Big Year”, with Jack Black).

I love birds.  They are beautiful and it is a thrill to see one, but I’ve only ever gotten up early to do “bird watching” with a group once, and the experience did not motivate me to do it again.  And I don’t care to lug heavy binoculars with me on a hike because I end up never using them.   I never understood why until now and the book, “What the Robin Knows” by Jon Young, subtitled “How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World”, did indeed open my eyes to a whole new world.

I’ve always been a “big picture” person.  I like to be involved and learn how systems interact (both professionally and personally), and through that interest, learn the details to be able to achieve a better understanding and control.

So, it only goes hand-in-hand, that I would like this book.  Here is one review that perhaps says it best:

It is a tribute to the author’s boyish enthusiasm and invigorating […] blend of tracking skills and modern field ecology that he persuades you that you really can learn what he calls “deep bird language.” This involves mastering the multiple alarm calls that common birds make, understanding the calibrations of concern that each one represents and adding in a basic grasp of the body language of birds—not only as individuals but as a system of multiple species interacting in your backyard or in the woods. […]

In half an hour of watching—the minimum he recommends at a “sit spot,” since you need to allow the disturbed wildlife to return to its “baseline”—we were able to recognize many of the charmingly named bird behaviors he describes: the “sentinel” perched high while other birds, and species, foraged below; the “hook,” in which an alarmed but not overly concerned bird flies off and then back to a higher spot; the “bird plow,” when an intruder (in this case us) drives a whole range of birds before it.

What makes the approach of “What the Robin Knows” so refreshing is that it borrows back into bird-watching something the practice often surrenders to birders, those single-minded stalkers who identify and then abandon individual birds with promiscuous fury. My daughter has little interest in my fits of avian acquisitiveness, but sitting quietly in the woods, taking in the whole system as a sort of babbling classroom whose sounds and silences all communicate something important, she was mesmerized—and so was I. This, more than anything else, is what bird-watching ought to mean.

I’ve a renewed sense of enthusiasm for bird watching and my mind goes back to observations that I’ve made and recorded in this blog that have been given new meaning.

My Sit Spots

I have three sit spots in mind.

  1. Our back porch looks out on the edge of a  woodland.  I have an Adirondack chair there that is a good reading spot.  I can look up, periodically, without disturbing the birds, and see a variety of birds in the trees or on the ground, foraging for food.
  2. The window in our dining area looks out over a meadow.  I’ve frequently observed birds there acting “sentinel”, and turkeys coming up to feed on dropped pears from the pear tree.
  3. A path in the woods that overlooks a creek where I’ve previously seen deer and turkeys.  I bought Jim a do-it-yourself bench kit for Christmas so we can put it at this location.

My Secret Desire

Kicking Bird (Tene'-angopte), a Kiowa chief an...
Kicking Bird (Tene’-angopte), a Kiowa chief and grandson of a Crow captive;three-quarter-length, seated. Photographed by William S. Soule, 1868-74. American Indian Select List number 103. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am no tracking expert, but I have a secret desire to be one.  I look forward to reading Gary Miller’s article in the Union News Leader each week, enjoying his outdoor observations.  I research my personal observations and I read numerous books, such as this one.

The author’s (Jon Young) skills remind me of what a native American Indian’s capabilities must have been like.  He says as much by relating the story that Indians could in fact “predict” the presence of enemy troops miles away by observing the “bird plow” and hearing alarm calls by birds which are used across species (deer, fox, etc.0.

It is sad to think that today’s young people are becoming less literate in this area, choosing to focus on anything electronic.  If only they knew the world they are missing.

Life is an Adventure.