Cuckoo for Birdwatching
I am, of course, an avid birdwatcher – or “birder”. That means I participate in a recreational pastime that invokes excruciatingly early mornings that could have been invested in bedcovers walking forests or prairies or wetlands or deserts or beaches looking for as many wild birds as I can possibly find because it’s excruciatingly fun.
It’s an addiction, sure, because I’m powerless to resist, but it’s a passion that floods my veins with a rush of fulfillment and joy that must, I am also sure, mirror the way heroine, or meth, or crack cocaine claim the lost and the doomed.
In those words you will hear neither excuse nor apology nor the justification of drug use but only this: In every imaginable configuration of the word I am a birder.
However my wife is not.
At least that’s what she will swear to you on a stack of Sibleys.
Perhaps being married to a birder diminishes one’s resistance like igneous rock ground into powdered sand over many millennia. Perhaps the bond of partnership that permeates marriage clouds the intellectual parameters of what is and what is not imagined? Perhaps it’s all a lie cleverly cloaked in denial. Whatever the case, Julie is NOT a birder. So when she rings me up at seven-thirty of a workaday morning and asks me what kind of hawk with a brown back and a whitish rump patch she just saw skimming low over a marsh while driving Highway 40 on the way to work, that is not birding.
Whatever the logical sticking points, Julie — when she marvels out loud at a Great Blue Heron – her admitted favorite bird – swallowing a carp thrice the diameter of its own neck — is not birding.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, Julie, when dramatically moved to the point of language inappropriate for general audiences by the immediate and surprising appearance of a Pileated Woodpecker the size of a hawk; or when brazenly captivated by the impossible physics of a Brown Pelican plunging beak-first into the sea in pursuit of a fish meal; or when indicted via photographic documentation feeding Doritos to a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch straight from the palm of her willing hand, is not a birder.
What were you thinking, Fool? Will you next propose that Michael Jordan is a basketball player? That pizza is Italian? Better to banter earth-sun geometry with Galileo than to argue semantics with my dear wife. She is what she is and that is just so. If she says she is not a birder then so be it.
Interestingly, Julie used to go birding quite a bit. Before we were married. While we were dating she was possessed of sufficient energy to rise up before dawn and embrace life through binoculars. Then one day that all changed. Julie became a behaviorist.
For Julie, the thrill is not to see the bird, it’s to see the bird in vivo. Julie loves to see the bird think, see the bird eat, see the bird stacked atop another bird. (You know what that means. Please don’t make me say it!) Julie isn’t interested in lifers or big days — unless you’re talking about husbands mated for life or weddings.
Me? Oh I’m a birder through and through, and one day I was looking to do a story on Big Sits.
You’ll get a kick out of this one!
A “big sit” is one of many games a birder enjoys playing. In this particular version she “confines” herself to a given 17 foot diameter circle – in any location she chooses — and proceeds to record as many birds as she can in a twenty-four hour period (or until she needs a sandwich or a pee break) while positioned within that circle.
Does that make any sense at all? I mean the description, not the motivation. As long as one remains in the circle, one is free to count any bird seen or heard as part of the total. The current world record for this type of folly is pretty amazing — like over a hundred different kinds of birds — but I’d never actually attempted this kind of thing personally. So I secured a camera for the day, filled a cooler with assorted beverages, set out several lawn chairs, and invited anyone I could think of to stop by and join me.
From before seven AM until just before dark I spent hours scanning the sky, treetops and surrounding yards for birds. Several neighbors joined me at various times of the day – actually sitting down in a lawn chair and conversing with me, if not actively looking for birds. Julie, however – though she was at home for the day – never entered the count circle. She stopped by to say hello, or to bring me a snack, or to tell me how crazy the whole idea was, but she never actually assisted in the count.
So when all was done but not said and I had netted 37 species identified and enough sound and video to put together a story for the nightly news, I got an idea.
I asked Julie to narrate the story.
Of course she balked. She’s a teacher, not a journalist. She’d never voiced a TV story before. I explained that I’d write the whole thing – all she had to do was read it with feeling. With a little more persuasion and a hand in editing the final script, she agreed. We hooked the microphone directly to the camera and she read the script in the privacy of our home basement.
That wasn’t all of it, though. I also asked her to tape what we call two reporter “stand-ups”. That means she’d have to recite lines from memory while I rolled the camera – an exercise that regularly challenges professional journalists.
To her credit, Julie did marvelously — so well in fact that the story “Cuckoo For Birdwatching” actually won an award for excellence in journalism from the Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Association statewide competition in 2009 (click below to watch story).
That’s something to crow about.
Posted under Artist? Scientist? Philosopher? Camera Guy?
This post was written by sbetchkal on March 30, 2011