Bird brained stories!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Birding: Connecting one to all of creation

Birders, like any subculture, are an odd lot to those not part of the tribe. What could possibly be so interesting about birds that people willingly get up at 3 AM to go out into the field, often in miserable weather, to see birds? You can sit in your porch and see birds, can't you? You can watch them in comfort and dry weather, so what's with all the binoculars, bug spray and multiple field guides, anyway?

As the commercial says, if you have to ask, you just don't understand. Each person out in the rain and cold with her binoculars trained to the heights of the tallest tree has her reasons, each as unique as the person gazing skyward. I'm guessing you'd be hard-pressed to find a person alive who doesn't find birds at least mildly interesting. They can fly, after all. They fly incredible distances over open ocean non-stop. That's impressive, anyone would have to acknowledge that.

For me, it goes beyond that universal degree of awe they inspire. Birds allow me to connect with all of creation, natural and man-made. I just spent a week taking a teacher workshop at Trees for Tomorrow in Eagle River Wisconsin. The workshop was "Birding by Habitat," and it was a wonderful way to earn a couple university credits. The goal of the workshop wasn't to see lots of birds, but to carefully study those we did see and make some connections as to why those were the birds seen. Why, for instance, were Northern Parulas common in the mature hemlock forests and not the burned areas? As I've sought to watch more closely, I've realized the need to better understand the plant communities and habitats in which various birds choose to nest and live. I need to watch the flowers growing along the trails as closely as the birds flying in the treetops. Otherwise, how would I have seen the incredible bog plants, such as sundew and grass pink?

Understanding the habitat leads me to question the alteration of habitats and the impact on birds and other members of a given habitat community. Like many naturalists, I'm concerned by the constant sprawl taking place around me. We notice fewer birds of certain species than in years past and need to look no further than the ripped up old fields making way for a new development or strip mall. It makes us angry, perhaps, but even more so, sad. Sad for what is lost, and then the anger over that loss impels me to activism. I contact a county board member to suggest there is no need to mow a vacant field used by nesting Dickcissels. I post links to entries on this blog to increase awareness of the wonder of birds and the places they live, hoping others will follow suit. It's like that story of the woman throwing back the starfish washed ashore. She can't possibly save them all, but it matters to the ones she saves.

Most of all, birding allows me to share my moments of joy and discovery, sending out into the universe my gratitude for all that has been shared with me. On my way home from my workshop up north, I traveled through the cranberry bogs of west central Wisconsin. As I rounded a curve in the county road between two cranberry operations, something caught my eye right at the edge of the road, moving slowly and almost prehistorically through the plants. I pulled around the corner and parked, watching first through the car window, then tentatively stepping outside my car. The eating was good; they stopped, looked, and decided I wasn't much of a threat. I share with you now, in gratitude for all I've learned from each of you, my latest moment of avian joy.

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  • WHAT a fantastic picture.

    By Anonymous Adrienne, at 10:40 AM  

  • Aren't they gorgeous!!! We saw a pair of sandhill babies along the side of the road in Door County........but I have no marvelous pictures like you do!
    Thanks for sharing!

    By Blogger Jane Swanson, at 1:50 PM  

  • Excellent post, great picture, Gwyn.

    By Blogger Duncan, at 7:47 PM  

  • Great photo...

    By Blogger Jimmy, at 8:27 AM  

  • beautiful photo and a very well written post Gwyn.. you have a gift with words :)

    By Anonymous Cindy, at 9:45 PM  

  • Nicely done! Excellent post and a nice photo of the crane family.

    I have a new link to add to my blog.

    Thanks again.

    By Blogger Ben C., at 3:46 PM  

  • They are beautiful. I've seen cranes while traveling, but never a young one.

    By Blogger knitsteel, at 5:10 PM  

  • Great story as usual. Interesting that I have just posted pictures of Sandhill crane chicks on my blog. Your photo is better.

    By Blogger wolf21m, at 10:05 PM  

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