I and the Bird

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

How I Got Here

Well it's Thursday and there aint much birdin' to report. The weather for Cape May is still looking good, but after I got blown out of Lewes last week I'm not celebrating yet. Although if this trip doesn't go off I'm out 60 bones on a hotel room in Marmora, NJ. Fingers crossed, por favor.

Since I've got nothing much to say (and nothing really to District Report) I'll spin the yarn of how I got into birding. Briefly. I grew up in Falmouth, Maine in a house on the ocean. It was beautiful. My grandfather was (is) a famous Maine outdoorsman, the state's Attorney General and head of the Fish and Wildlife Dept. He took me fishing, hunting, canoeing all the time and I got a great love and respect for the outdoors from him (and he passed it down to my Dad, who also took me and my brother fishing and hunting etc...). [note: I don't want to get into a nature/nurture thing here, but my little brother, Alex, also got the family naturalist treatment, 'cept he turned out about as woodsy as a skyscraper. Well not really, but you get the gist.] Anyway so I loved the outdoors and spend a lot of time there, alright?

BUT I never really paid much attention to birds. I remember one winter in my teens when I started watching sea ducks from my house and wondering why I had never noticed them before. I remember looking up buffleheads, goldeneyes and oldsquaws (sorry, long-tailed ducks...the ones with the great call) in a little Peterson we had lying around. I remember being so enamored with these birds that I planned to write a novel about a romance between a boy and a girl who comes to the coast of Maine just for the winter for some reason. I got as far as the title: "Winter Ducks." It sounded nice and sappy in my head where, thankfully, it also died.

SO the next step to birding came on my return flight from studying abroad in Durban, South Africa. I happened upon a book called The Big Year by Bob Obmiscik. I bought it, read it, was interested in this subculture...but didn't really do anything about it. And that was that, for about a year.

OK so zoom ahead to spring break of my senior year of college (Hamilton). My lovely girlfriend Kate and I have nearly completed a round trip road excursion from Utica, NY to New Orleans (r.i.p) and up to her hometown of Ft. Wayne, IN. We are in a book store (shit I cant remember the name) and I happen across a used Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds. See, one of the reasons I didn't pick up birding right after reading The Big Year (and believe me, I'm no stranger to fads: golf in '98, indoor rock gyms, snap bracelets, livestrongs. Show me a bandwagon and I'll jump right on. I won't even ask where it's going) was the fact that I didn't understand the logistics of birding. It seemed to complicated, with its lists and guides and maps and shit. Then, as if touched by a magic avian cupid, I opened that used Peterson and saw, scratched in the hand of some withered old lady, WERE THE NAMES AND DATES OF BIRDS SHE HAD SEEN RIGHT NEXT TO THE PICTURE! It was like the rubik's cube got accidentally knocked off the table and landed with all sides matching. You could keep it all in that little book! Genius!

Well I'll be damned if I didn't buy that book, cross off the chicken scratchings of it's previous, and most likely deceased, owner (...who else would sell used bird book except an estate sale liquidation? Wherever you are, Madam, rest in peace. You're legacy has lived on in the soul of youth!) and begun counting birds with my first step out that shop door. From that day foreward (March 21, 2005) I've haven't stopped looking. [For the record, my first official entry was a Northern Shoveler in a swampy field in Fort Wayne.]
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