|This Eastern Screech-Owl is a celebrity in Newburyport.|
Birding is for old people with funny hats.
The truth is, though, it pushes all my buttons. I love taking pictures. I love to hike and snowshoe. I love being on the hunt. I love doing the reading and studying. And since November, I've been looking for reasons to avoid my Facebook and Twitter feeds, if only to preserve my sanity.
I call it trading Tweets for tweets.
My introduction to birding has been through my backyard feeder, Henry at Wildbirds Unlimited, Carol and the great people at Audubon, The Big Year, H is for Hawk, my new Sibley and Peterson, my e-bird alerts, and a bunch of group excursions looking for owls and eagles and hawks (oh my).
And I'm still a complete rookie--which is good for the soul. My life list has 38 birds. They even place me in the front seat of the van when I head off with a group of experienced birders so I "don't miss anything." When I was first to spot an eagle a few weeks ago, I heard one of the charming older ladies in my group whisper, "Beginner's luck." So, I'm starting in right field--but at least I'm in the game.
And, as in every human endeavor, with birding, there is a pecking order. Just like at the office, where there is a clear pecking order. At the gym. At the local diner. At church. My wife plays in bell choirs and, yes, even when nice people are swinging 3/8-inch thick solid Aluminum/Titanium alloy, polished tempered tone chimes, in unison to Bach, there is a pecking order.
|Today's rare bird alert. It's hard |
not to want to drop everything
and go looking.
Here's one recent example.
About a month ago, I was on Plum Island in Newburyport, one of the great birding places in America. It was maybe 7:30 a.m., not long after sunrise, and I had stumbled upon a Red-tail Hawk. For a rookie birder, hawks are pretty special, even if the Red-tail (I learned later) is the default bird of prey in Massachusetts. This magnificent animal was perched on a viewing tower, fixated on a vol or mouse in the grass, and was about to swoop in for the kill.
It was just him and me, and I was snapping away.
Then, from behind me, comes Bird Guy. Remember, I've only been at this for a few months, but already I can recognize Bird Guy. He is the king of the pecking order. He's late 60s, maybe 70. He's dressed in camouflage. (Really.) He has a small fortune in technology dangling from his neck and a tripod over his shoulder. And he has a lens like you might see on the battlefield at Gettysburg.
I have a Canon. He has a cannon. If he'd had a caisson I wouldn't have been surprised.
Anyway, he comes up behind me and asserts his place at the top of the pecking order: "Sniff. Oh, that hawk. I took pictures of him last spring. Sniff. He's always around. Everyone gets him."
|My friend, the Red-tail. I was excited, even if GI Joe wasn't.|
G.I. Joe looks me over. I'm new, he can tell. A threat. An ape invading his territory. "Yep," says he.
After all, how much competition can I be with an Orvis jacket and a lens I can haul with one hand?
As he's walking away I can hear him muttering, and I catch ever so softly, "Sniff. I would never take pictures of a bird sitting on a man-made object." What's that, I think? I can't take a picture of a hawk on a man-made tower?
And then I realize: It's just the ape in us, keeping the pecking order. I really am going to have to serve my time in right field.
As I was driving home, it occurred to me that a guy dressed in $500 worth of official camouflage from the Army/Navy Store, with $8,000 worth of man-made high-tech swinging from his neck, was chiding me for taking pictures of a Red-tail hawk on a man-made wooden tower.
And that, my friend, is exactly how the pecking order works.
P.S.--I'm off to the Army/Navy Store this weekend to find me a funny hat.