Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ticking away the birds that make up a dull day

Birding is like a hit-and-run accident.

Birding is like a one-night stand.

Birding is like a drive-by shooting.

Go ahead, call me melodramatic. I will not deny these accusations. A synonym for dramatic exaggeration is hyperbole, an apparently acceptable literary technique. I’m safe.

Seriously, though—birding, at least for me, has become an assassin’s business. A flash of black and yellow! Bins up: Townsend’s Warbler. Bins down. End of story. The individual bird is a nobody, a misunderstood and unappreciated cog in the wheel of our superficial birding pleasure.

Birding, birder—these designations release a slight bitter taste in my brain. So, I decided to go birdwatching. Accoutered with only binoculars and sketchpad, I headed out the door to find a bird to watch for half an hour. Just the two of us—me and the bird—for thirty minutes.

Ravens and Audubon’s Warblers I deemed too flighty for half an hour of continuous observation. I could not bear the thought of watching a Coot or a Mallard for such a long time. So, I selected a Say’s Phoebe as my victim. The grass was still damp with morning dew, but I sat anyway, reasoning that a wet butt was well worth the enlightenment.

The phoebe was also sitting in the grass. Occasionally it would float upwards with wings a-quiver, only to suddenly nosedive into the jungle of Kentucky Bluegrass to snag some unfortunate moth. Despite this savage carnivory, I realized that the Say’s Phoebe is a very gentle bird. The tones of sepia subtly blend into each other, accented by salmon-colored flanks. It daintily perches and floats from post to post, occasionally piping a forlorn whistle.

However admiral the phoebe was, my attention suffered continuous assaults. Barely two minutes into my vigil—kippy-tippy-tickery, a Summer Tanager attempted to sabotage my experiment. Then, belligerent grunts gave me a start—three feet behind me, several coots waddled and quarreled, probably indignant about my egregious miscalculation of their race. But for thirty minutes I stubbornly watched that single Say’s.

You could call it birdwatching. In times past I cringed when people called me a birdwatcher. Maybe it’s not such an offensive title after all.