Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why Bird?

The question is sometimes asked, what is the appeal of birding? Different people offer different reasons, based on their own personal experience. It is a common pass time for many, and I'll offer my thoughts on why people in general bird, and then why I so enjoy it.

If we reflect on the history of the human animal it is easy to imagine a time when recognizing the difference between a poisonous snake and a harmless one could mean the difference between life and death. Remembering over generations where to find the roots and berries at the proper time for harvest was a survival skill. Those with the ability to locate and properly categorize plants, animals, rocks, clouds and other elements of the natural world were the ones who would survive. Natural selection has created brains that are good at categorizing, and with the ability to anticipate future events based on past experience.

Play is a way of honing skills for later survival. Puppies and kittens tumble and tussle in preparation for possible combat in the future. For humans, play can involve such games as "hide and go seek". Birding is the way grownups get to play hide and go seek. Sometimes the bird even makes noises to drive the seeker a bit crazy.

Some people enjoy putting together a puzzle. There's the joy of creating a thing of beauty from tiny bits, from recognizing where a part fits, and the success of placing the final piece to realize the completed, now-orderly whole.

My most recent life bird was the Black Rosy-Finch. This is the second or third year I've sought out the Rosy-Finches above Discovery Park. Never saw 'em until recently. This year I saw them and captured a blurry photo.

I'll leave the philosophy about photography for another time, but there's a lot there as well. Suffice it to say that I would like to have a photo of the birds I have seen, and that sometimes I just see a bird, sometimes I see it and get a poor photo, and sometimes I get a better photo.

Photo or no photo, those who keep lists of the birds they see are "collecting" even if there's no physical bird in hand. In the old days, the birder shot the bird, and stuffed it for the collection. Even Audubon was a bird-shooter. Nowadays there are too many people around, and not enough birds. Shooting them is right out.

In nearly every culture in the world, collecting is a human endeavor. Even some birds collect. The male Bower Bird makes a little hut from sticks and grasses, brings in bits of flower petals, butterfly wings, and shells. It sorts and displays the collections by category, and then invites the female over to view the collection. If she likes the collection enough, well, you get the idea. Birding is just collecting ... collecting sightings.

And, for me it is nice to be outdoors, getting exercise, and enjoying the natural world.

I was asked, about my earlier post in this blog, "How come the Rosy-Finch photo is so blurry?"

My goal, of course, is to get a sharp, clear photo of a bird that identifies it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sometimes I get no photo at all, and only have my fallible memory to rely upon. It is amazing what birds my memory claims to have seen ... but with no photo, I begin to doubt. As I mentioned, even with a photo, it took me a few days of reflection to decide that this is a Black Rosy-Finch and not the browner Gray-crowned. I liked the photo because it showed the bird on a Cliff Swallow nest. It was taken at sunset, when the birds return to roost, so the light was low. The camera was hand-held and set to an extreme telephoto setting, so even my heartbeat affected the sharpness of the photo. Bird photography is like being a biathlete sometimes, those people who cross-country ski, then pause to shoot, trying to slow their heart rate enough to be accurate during strenuous exercise. The bird was far away. Here's another example photo, just as the camera saw it.

Using photo editing software I cropped the picture, so the bird is more visible. This one is a bit sharper. If I can keep the photo size to at least 640 x 480 pixels, it can be printed as a 4-inch x 6-inch print, and put in an album. Of course, it is nice if the bird would fill more of the frame. And, if it would display some natural behaviour or show some of its habitat, I consider the photo more of a success.

Black Rosy-Finch. I'll keep seeking the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. I know they're out there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. I like to bird just because they're pretty! And I like being able to identify them too.
This finch picture is good, have you made multiple trips to see/photogragh them?