Confessions and Legacies
It was a funny thing to realize after 20 some odd years of birding that I was a birder. I get it from my grandparents who loved birds intensely. They watched me after school and from their wide kitchen window you could sit and watch over twenty feeders. Some days it was my responsibility to run the feeding rounds for my Pa-Paw. The feed was stored in two large garbage cans in an aluminum shed. I’d fill up a cut up plastic milk jug or sometimes a bucket and go around making sure all the feeders were full.
My grandparents backyard in Indianapolis, on any given day, resembled an aviary. There were the usual suspects of cardinals, sparrows, blue jays, and goldfinches. However, a large number of other birds would visit regularly including escaped parrots from city homes and, on more than one occasion, from the zoo. When I wasn’t watching after school cartoons, I was watching birds. Occasionally, my grandmother would allow me to use the big black HEAVY binoculars to look out the window at the birds. I could never really get the hang of them and about the time I did I had to rest my arms.
Flash forward a few decades.
My grandparents, as their health began to slip, wanted me to have their binoculars, the big heavy ones. They weren’t so heavy anymore. I thanked them, used them a few times on hiking trips, and then put them away. My grandmother passed away early this year and I found the old Golden field identification guide with their small ballpoint pen notes and dog eared pages. I was allowed to keep it. It reminds me of them, the times at the kitchen window.
For some reason, I started paying attention to birds around me. I dug out the old heavy binoculars and, over time, I came to realize there are a lot more than just cardinals, blue jays, and starlings around if you keep your eyes open. They’re also doing a lot more than just eating seed.
I start poking around on the web and I ffound a great site; Ebird.com. As part of Cornell University, it helps to keep track of bird numbers, migrations, and logistics. I start keeping lists of the birds I see around town. When I’m out or on the road I’m continually looking around for a bird to watch. I’m no longer bored at a stoplight. For instance, sitting in traffic I watched a red-headed woodpecker atop a telephone pole. I got to see a hummingbird grab a drink while walking my dog.
Have you noticed? Birds are frikkin everywhere!
Currently, on my lunch breaks I go to a nearby park and record what I see. I take my camera with me and make do with what I have; a Canon Rebel and a 300mm zoom lens. My grandparents binoculars make for a nice backup. I keep a sketch journal as well. For the first time in my life, just last week, I saw my first warblers as they moved southward on their fall migration. I took my eldest son on a morning trip to a nearby lake and we watched an osprey hunt a shallow bay for thirty minutes. During a recent lunch trip, a red tailed hawk sat 12 feet away from me and devoured a mouse she had just caught. My life list of birds I’ve seen has exploded over the past several months. My field notes are getting out of control.
I’m completely hooked.
Yet, there is a bit more to it. All this birdwatching and nature awareness is having an interesting effect on me. Like suddenly realizing I’m a birder AFTER I’ve been birding for years, I’m coming around to the fact that I may be coming into what I’m REALLY supposed to be doing on this planet. They say do what you love and everything else will take care of itself.
It’s been a long chunk of time. I’ve danced, goofed, and lollygagged down my fair share of false starts and dead-end paths. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, because I got handed a pair of too heavy binoculars, a camera, and spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid, I may be on to something here.
It’s got me thinking about where I want to be in ten years, what I want to be doing. It’s making me go back and look over things. How do I want to be spending my time? How do I want to share with my children, my family, and my community?
Yeah, I think I may definitely be onto something here. We’ll see how it goes.