Bird-watchers Anonymous

If you tell someone to stop and smell the roses, or the grass or coffee or anything bizarre and clichéd like that, usually you will be gifted with an intensely withering look. It will be a blessing that this person is not in contact with grass or roses, because they would rot and atrophy by their gaze.

By contrast, if you tell someone to stop and, let’s say, look at a bird, you will likely get one of three responses: confusion, incredulity, or disdain. Confusion denotes a person who will look at the bird for you, but does not understand the purpose of your asking; the incredulous one may or may not look, but won’t really understand the purpose of looking at the bird, and certainly can’t believe a real human being would request this of them; a disdainful response means they will not only not glance up, but will then likely deride you and your interests in a casual, nonchalant way, and leave you feeling that enthusiasm for avifauna is ridiculous.

So anyway, I stop and look at birds. Hi, my name’s Alissa, and I’m a bird-watcher.

Paddle of Muscovy ducks.

The difference between a birder and bird-watcher is a matter of degree. A birder is probably the kind of bird-watcher that comes to mind when you hear the term: a perhaps middle-aged white man with binoculars and a a khaki bucket hat, lying flat on his belly in some shrubbery for hours.

This is the exception not the rule. Do you know how I bird? I look around every now and then. They’re damn everywhere–that’s why Hitchcock made a horror movie about them, and everyone went, Oh, no.

It helps to have a basic understanding of habitat and behavior, admittedly. While DeLand and the Stetson campus have no shortage of feathered wonders wandering about, they do prefer either quieter, wooded areas, or gather where the open space and standing water is.

Water retention/detention basins are man-made dips in otherwise urban landscapes, which form small lakes or ponds when it rains; they collect and manage storm runoff for a short period of time, preventing flooding. Painter’s Pond Park is one example of such a stormwater system, and a veritable haven for water fowl such as white ibis and Muscovy ducks.

Sandhill cranes feeding near a drainage ditch.

As I hit up the local hot spots, making my rounds down past P-Safe and out behind UVA, my thoughts wandered. The environment was rife with activity: a small family of pileated woodpeckers were in the trees, three total bustling along in the trunks of slasher pines. While I saw no blue jays, I could hear their distinctive screeches somewhere in the distance. Oftentimes a bird can be heard and identified by its call even when it is no where in visible sight. Such is the life of bird-watching. I admire and pity wildlife photographers.

I happened to be in a bad mood after having a fight with a friend, and I reflected on both the solitude of seeking out animals in nature and the inherent solidarity to the act. I could be within and without myself at the same time, and watched the birds move in their little familial units with a certain sense of appreciation and detachment. I drafted an entire moody tirade in my head, simultaneously, squinting into the sun, but it’s hard to stay entirely moody when birds are such odd, no-armed, generally noisy, usually hop-along little fellows.

Two dino-sized birds, sandhill cranes, three feet high or taller, crossed the busy, 4-lane street nonchalantly, barely pausing for traffic, to rejoin their family members grazing on the other side. I wondered if they had ever attacked a car like the wild peacocks in South Florida’s village of El Portal.

I heard the taunting back and forth cries of crows somewhere overhead, and looking up, caught them swooping from treetop to telephone wire  down to the middle of the roadway. They really were fearless today. I whistled at one.

“Who’s a pretty birdy? What you got there?” They had turned their head parallel to the ground to grab something flat and shiny.

Standing up, they cocked their head and screamed at me.

White ibis near Painter’s Pond retention area.

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