Monday, October 20, 2008

The curious social etiquette of birders

I went birding. Both the kingfisher and flicker (a type of woodpecker) are frenetic and prefer solitary roaming, according to my guidebook. I noticed, too, the killdeer, bluebird and blackbird prefer loud groups and tend to create distracting flight patterns, possibly to make up for their diminutive size when compared to hawks and other raptors that share the same air space.

Immediately after MFA, I realized I was hobby-less. And this is a frightening, undignified place to be in. While in Missoula, I could count my 'hobbies" on one hand, and they all included something to do with writing (mainly because of workshop) or the weekend tasks that serve as diversion: reading for workshop, reading for seminar, attending poetry reading, attending fiction reading, attending nonfiction reading, reading the newspaper, watching movies, going to movies-- you get the picture. While this list provided amble free time amusement-- and intellectual thought-provocation-- it felt sometimes that I couldn't' bring in anything substantial to my writing that I'd directly experienced. Alas, I lack in the direct-experience category.

As I planned my move to Chicago I knew I had to seamlessly integrate a hobby into my new routine. Not that I treat a hobby--by definition, the very antithesis of "requirement", "work", etc.-- as grueling, but if I don't get something rolling alongside a big life change, it never takes hold. I had to treat this hobby-finding like starting a new workout routine. Richard Simmons was shoving the leg warmers in my face and politely chiding me toward better endeavors.

That's where I came to birding. My literary scope had always lovingly poked toward the avian community (I count Charles Olson among good company here). Earlier this summer, I joined the Chicago Ornithological Society. This past Sunday was the first birding event I've attended, at a local wildlife preserve. I had little idea what birds are native to Illinois-- although I correctly assumed they are similar, due to migratory patterns, to New York State's bird population. Surprisingly, even the Osprey I knew in Missoula show up here in IL.

When I arrived Sunday morning a group of 12 had already formed along the banks of this particular pond. The scopes were out and immediately scope-envy swept the group. As I approached I heard numbers flying-- which scope power, what brand and model number... Was it HD? Can you tell the difference, on a sunny day, between high definition scope and regular? (In some cases, no). Scope-talk took on all the intensity of LCD television talk. Later, Facebook, and the imperative of the COS group starting their own page for events and networking dominated the landscape where we saw pelicans, and a variety of ducks, including the Hooded Merganser.

Here, I observed the social etiquette of birders. Despite my intrusion into this very close group of dedicated birders, my inexperience was embraced and encouraged with reference to the online community of bird list serves, birding events, and iPod accessories related to birding.

When a bird is sighted by binoculars, all scopes in the group immediately swoop to the sight, and excited shouts go up. At any moment you are to stop what you're doing, stop what you're talking about, and play musical chairs for the closest open scope. This required focus and intensity.

Likewise, if you're engaged in conversation (related to birds or otherwise), either participant in the one-on-one may, at any time, stop in mid-sentence and wander away to another bird-viewing vantage point. You resume your conversation (or don't) at the next rendezvous point-- usually when the brush is too high to see over.

Other birds of note I've added to my life list:

Rusty blackbird
Cooper's Hawk
Mute Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Osprey (by sight of osprey tower, only)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hooded Mergansers--whoo! For those birders/writers out there, check out this new pub: