Saturday, April 24, 2010

New River Birding Virgin



Today I am winging my way to a birding festival in West Virginia. "But Murr," you are saying, "you don't know poop about birds." Not true. I know more about birds than the average person. It is only in the company of genuine birders that I come off lint-headed. Sadly for my reputation, there are birders everywhere. Look at the person to your right, then to your left: one of you has a life list of 350 birds, one of you is a Republican, and one of you will die soon. I'm throwing my lot in with the bird people.

And I know a little already. I even have a vestigial biology degree. But I couldn't tell a greater spindly-legs from a lesser spindly-legs unless they were standing right next to each other, and even then I couldn't rule out that one of them is just a freak.

The fact is, I'm not a very good birder. Well, I'm not actually a birder at all, but not for lack of trying. Well, okay, it is for lack of trying, but it isn't because I don't aspire to birderdom. Well, I don't really aspire to birderdom. I'd just like to be able to know what a bird was when I saw it. Okay, I'd like to be able to see it.

I'd settle for that. I walk in the woods a lot, and if I had to rely strictly on the evidence from my own eyes, I'd have to conclude that Trees Make Tweety Noises.

Here in town, I'm pretty reliable spotting any of the five birds that frequent my yard. We have chickadees, scrub jays, juncos, little brown jobs and a finchy number. I do know their names. The finchy number is Boo Boo, and the big blue-headed fellow bashing in a mouse's head on the rain gutter is Guido. A little further afield, it's not uncommon to spot a flock of yellow-headed snatchflashers down on 82nd Avenue.

Anywhere else, I have to use my binoculars and a field guide. This never works out for me. Once I locate the bird, I document it exhaustively: white eyestripe, grey breast, spot on the wingtips and a light patch on the tail. Then I get the guide. Which says that nothing is conclusive unless I can verify the yellow undertail coverts. How am I supposed to verify anything that is under tail and covert? Without being rude?

Or I'll memorize eight features on a three-inch bird and find that it is still not in the book anywhere, which sends me whining to a real birder with my description. "Hmm," real birder says thoughtfully. "Might be a juvenile, or a variant." See, that's just not fair.

Many people see no reason to know all the birds and their little bird parts. But I am not among them. I know that in life the more you know, the more you can see, and the funnier it all is. If you see a giant slug on the trail in front of you, you might be inclined to step over it in distaste like it was God's Loogie, unless you also knew that it has an enormous, diaphanous blue penis coming out of his head. I don't care who you are: that is interesting.

So how did I go from Boo Boo and Guido to the New River Birding And Nature Festival? It started innocently enough. I had this teeny little blog no one read, and then one day, through Internetular magic, a woman named Julie Zickefoose tripped over it and liked what she saw. I liked her back. She sent her whole tribe my way. They were birders, she turned out to be their Queen, and now I have a Facebook page infested with nature lovers I've never met in person. They keep me up-to-date on such things as the first phoebe sighting of spring, or the first peent of the woodcock, or the fact that there is such a thing as a woodcock, or that he goes peent. I'm getting all knowledged up, and look forward to getting even educateder.

But if Julie had been an astronaut, just think of where I'd be flying off to now.

I'll be off the grid and undercover with the birders for a week, but I've got Murrmurrs loaded up and ready to poop out posts on schedule while I'm gone. Meanwhile, if you want genuine Julie Zickefoose Woodcock Underpants, and I know you do, click here.

32 comments:

  1. Oh, to be the first to comment on a Murrpost. My, my. It never happens. Somebody's gonna beat me to it by the time I get this composed. Why am I bawling? It's your fault. Here I am bustling about in my starched apron fussing over whether you'll like banana bread toasted with cream cheese or whether chicken pot pie is too pedestrian a thing to offer a sophisticated Oregon humorist, and you down me.

    You forget to mention my old-timer's moment that led to your booking a ticket--how I emailed you to say, "I'm so THRILLED you're coming to the New River festival!!" and you emailed back saying, "Oh. Am I?" and I cringed and wrote, "Uhh, I thought I heard you were!" (trying desperately to cover a sudden fallout in brain cells) and you wrote, "Well, maybe I will!" and now you're rolling your underwear in tight little rolls and stuffing them in your shoes.

    That was a kind thing to do, to book a ticket across the continent just to make me feel better about my lapse in consciousness. I promise to point out birds to you whether you can see them or not. I cannot wait to meet you and introduce you to my family and friends. And I want to show you my woods.

    Practically incapacitated with excitement. See you tonight!

    xoxoxo

    jz

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  2. You are one of the most interesting and entertaining writers. I smile a lot while reading your posts.

    I am not a birder, but when I have ventured to use a guidebook, I have deduced that only knowledgeable birders could use those things.

    As for Republicans and birders being distinct people, I have always thought that they were the true bird brains. I jest. Well ... perhaps not so much. :)

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  3. Oh to be at the New River Birding Festival and meeting you and Mary and Sara and Julie and Nina and everyone else...I wish I wish!!! Laughs, loads of fun and lots of birds...too perfect.

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  4. Murr, you make me howl and nod in agreement. Did I tell you I'm not a birder? They say I am but I freely admit I don't know jack about birds except they're cute and like my camera. I can't stand warblers although some are downright gorgeous. Last year at the same festival, I acquired 37 life birds but to save my soul, I could not idenify any of them today. I'm the idiot in the group that goes along for the ride like the lady who joins a foursome just to drive the golf cart.

    Can't wait to meet you. We will raise our glasses. Hey'yall!

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  5. I love being able to identify all the birds that frequent my airspace.

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  6. Nice reference to my job :) Have a grand time. I'll keep tabs on the husband.--Beth

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  7. "God's loogie" -- one of many reasons I love you. See ya later, Agitater. (Yes, Spellcheck, I know it has an o where I've put an e, but it's intentional, 'cause she has a cat named Tater... oh, never mind.)

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  8. I'm just getting into this whole birding thing...I took a great shot of a bird in my backyard and sent it to the local bird forum. I immediately received about 2 dozen responses that I was totally wrong on the bird type. Last time, I just called the shot "A. Birdbackyardus." Nobody bothered to correct me, so I guess that's the way to go...

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  9. Um. Birds totally scare the crap out of me. Seriously. No one should ever let a four year old watch Alfred Hitchcocks *The Birds*, it will indeed traumatize them for life.

    But I hope you have fun and no bad birds show up.

    ♥Spot

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  10. I don't claim to be a birder, but I've been a birdwatcher for more than 50 years, and I've never yet seen a flock of yellow-headed snatchflashers. Well, maybe one or two. But I don't remember. I drank a lot back then.

    Only you would think of that Murr. Thank goodness!

    Yes. That is ambiguous, isn't it?

    Play nice with Julie.

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  11. I can tell blackbirds and sparrows and robins and doves and big birds and small birds and noisy birds and wee chookie birds. That makes me practically an expert in our household.

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  12. Glasses will be raised! See you Wednesday ...

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  13. What a fun post, Murr! I can tell I'm going to be in good company.

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  14. Wish I was going to New River this year just to meet you, Murr! You will have a fabulous time. Susan, KatDoc, Mary, Julie, Nina and the rest of The Flock will show you a good time. And yes, they will throw a few birds in along with the wine and the laughter and the sisterhood. Can't wait to read about your adventures. West Virginia will never be the same.

    Beth

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  15. My wife is nuts about birds; more than once I have damn near driven into a ditch as she gets so excited pointing out the hawks perched on the fence along the freeway. She has that "Live Owl Cam" up on her PC all damn day!! http://www.sportsmansparadiseonline.com/Live_Owl_Nest_Box_Cam.html

    I gave her the link to the birding shorts.. she's gonna love that.

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  16. I live on 5 acres with loads of birds. I work for an enviro organization where we have lots of birders. the kind that write real books. still, amidst all this opportunity, i really can only confidently identify grackles, mockingbirds, and turkey vultures. Oh, and owls. it's pitiful. Like you, I want to be able to identify them, to call them by name, but I just really have not put in the effort. Have a great time at your birder festival. I think birders are wonderful people! I even liked Jane on Beverly Hillbillies.

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  17. Oh, Murr, Too bad I didn't loan you one of my favorite bird books before you left. It would help with those tricky IDs, like how to tell the greatest yellowlegs from the greater yellowlegs from the middle yellowlegs from the slightly lesser yellowlegs from the lesser yellowlegs from the least yellowlegs from the very least yellowlegs. The book suggests inserting a number of yardsticks in their mudflat habitats. Mudflats? Uh, not in West Virginia? Well, maybe West Virginia doesn't have yellowlegs, but I'll bet they have lots of eastern spider spitters (Salivatus ptuii)--best kept at binocular distance--and split-wing swifts (Quadriflappus fleetum). Julie and the WV flock will know what book I mean. For the rest of you, it's A FIELD GUIDE TO LITTLE-KNOWN & SELDOM-SEEN BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA, by Sill, Sill, and Sill (greatest, greater, slightly lesser???). Rosemary

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  18. Slugs have blue penises? Who knew! Oh this was about birds huh?

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  19. Ah, you always make me smile! As for birds in the backyard, I've nailed bluejays, cardinals, woodpeckers, owls and chickadees. Something was warbling away overhead at an outdoor dinner tonight and I've no clue what it was. When I see a bird I don't know, I dig in my books, then I look it up on whatbird.com. If you're lucky enough to get a photo, send it to namethatbird.com. And there is always the bird game namethebird.com for training yourself. In desperation, I call the local birding shop. It's usually a varient or an immature bird. Wish I knew more.

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  21. Too late, Tim, I saw your comment! (I'm sure there's an answer.) Well, I'm having too good a time here at Julie's to do more than report my big goofy grin at all your comments: thank you one and all.

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  22. Julie, Murr tried the same thing, the exact same line to get me to go! But I have to work, whee!

    Murr, have you ever seen the slugs do their mating dance? I haven't seen it for a few years, but it used to be a regular occurrence during evening cloudbusters in the summer.

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  23. Uh oh. Now you're life will change. Soon you'll be calling birds will zooming down the road at 70 miles an hour or interrupting interesting conversations wtih "did you hear that ...? And hopefully, you'll get to see some bird banding there and see the subtle marks not visible in the field. If not, you are welcome to look at my pictures from a banding event in South Central Texas. http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/577454525PGMlhs

    And now you'll have friends all over the country to go birding with. Including me.

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  24. Hope you had a great time. I'm looking forward to more interesting facts like the blue penis thing. Haha.

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  25. Have a blast in West Virginia! Wave if you fly by North Georgia (in case you connect through ATL). When you get back will you tell me how you did that load and shoot thing without being in front of your computer?? Must be that fancy MacDaddy...

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  26. I have a friend who has an enormous, diaphanous blue penis coming out of his head, and it's really, really interesting. And, like you, I also believe it's good to know at least a little about a lot of things because it does make life a lot more interesting. Birding, however, just doesn't appeal to me, perhaps because I think of birds as dirty creatures that get mites and lose their feathers. I blame this on a bad childhood experience with a pet budgie.

    Now I feel sad.

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  27. Whilst enjoying your ornithological adventures, don't let those sneaky birders talk you into going on a snipe hunt. The consequences are humiliating, trust me.

    Now I feel sad, too.

    I thought you were kidding about the underwear, until I followed the link. Hmmmm...either Julie has a dirty mind, or that's a very interesting random choice of birds to grace a pair of skivvies. I noticed in the comment section that the sizes people are ordering aren't large enough for them, which led me to wonder...if the shorts don't fit, would you really call up Customer Service and complain that your Woodcock is too small?

    Whistle some birdsong over the Chicago area as you're flying back home. I'll know it's you.

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  28. Did try bird-watching in Mesa Az but the group got enamored with an American Robin, a "good spot" and wouldn't let it go. I see robins in Portland like pickets on a fence and when it started to rain, we made our own bird call, "this sucks," and headed for the car. I can see where one could catch the virus though.

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  29. My wife is nuts about birds; more than once I have damn near driven into a ditch as she gets so excited pointing out the hawks perched on the fence along the freeway. She has that "Live Owl Cam" up on her PC all damn day!! http://www.sportsmansparadiseonline.com/Live_Owl_Nest_Box_Cam.html

    I gave her the link to the birding shorts.. she's gonna love that.

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  30. Glasses will be raised! See you Wednesday ...

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  31. I can tell blackbirds and sparrows and robins and doves and big birds and small birds and noisy birds and wee chookie birds. That makes me practically an expert in our household.

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  32. Nice reference to my job :) Have a grand time. I'll keep tabs on the husband.--Beth

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