Armchair Birding

Lately there have been quite a few slow birding days around here. Spring migration is happening, but the birds are still just trickling through in dribs and drabs rather than pouring in. But what is pouring, today at least, is the rain. So I thought I’d give you a taste of what a birder does when the weather and the birds don’t cooperate.

It’s called armchair birding. This can refer to actually watching birds from inside the house or, as I’m using it today, to reading bird books. Well, I guess I did watch the birds from inside too, but just for a few minutes. (Birds seen in my backyard: House Finch, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and American Robin.)

Rain-spattered window and view of backyard - blog
Raindrops on the sunroom window, and a view of my azalea and Japanese Maple tree.

And I hit the jackpot at my local used bookstore this morning. They had posted on their Facebook page about having Birds of the Toledo Area by Lou Campbell, and I’d asked them to hold it for me. While I was there I innocently asked if they might have any other bird books. I walked out of there with almost $50 less in my pocket, but boy was it worth it!

Blog - Birds of the Toledo Area (800x723)
Birds of the Toledo Area, by Lou Campbell

One of their customers said that her grandmother was Patricia Eckhart, who did the illustrations for this book.  I’m tickled pink to get a copy of this out-of-print book with such a strong local connection to my new hometown. It’s signed by the author too. And, inside one of the other books I bought was this:

Newspaper article about Lou Campbell - Birds of Toledo Area author (594x800)
It’s a full-page (and more) article about Lou Campbell. The article is dated 1993, when Mr. Campbell was 94 years old. It refers to him as a local institution–the “Dean of Birding” and “Dean of Nature,” among many other accolades. He was a founding member of the Toledo Naturalists’ Association, wrote a nature column in the local paper for more than 30 years, and was the acknowledged authority on birds in this region for 60 years. I wish I’d been around to know this man!

Blog - The Birds of Ohio cover (594x800)
Oh my gosh, this book is a large and gorgeous hardcover.
Blog - The Birds of Ohio - sample illustration (594x800)
A sample of William Zimmerman’s illustrations from The Birds of Ohio. (Author Bruce Peterjohn)
Blog - A Sketchbook of Birds (800x594)
A Sketchbook of Birds, by Charles Tunnicliffe
Blog - Sketchbook of Birds - illustration of Curlew Sandpiper (800x594)
Curlew Sandpiper illustration by Charles Tunnicliffe, from the book above.

And a few more little treasures, including two Golden Guides to birds:

Blog - more bird books from NeverMore (800x594)

I can’t find a publication date in the smaller Golden Guide, but Wikipedia says it was published in 1949. It’s falling apart as I turn the pages, but I just love reading the species accounts and tips on birding, like this:

“Hunting with a gun is giving way to hunting with a camera. Only a few species of game birds may be shot, but you may photograph any bird. Bird photography offers thrills and hard work. Don’t begin until you really understand photography…..”

Times have sure changed, haven’t they? Today anyone can take great bird photos, sometimes even with a cell phone camera.

I have to confess, my intention in buying old field guides was to take them apart and use the pages for some art projects. But I don’t know if I can bear to do that now that I’ve got them in my hands. Well, maybe the one that’s already falling apart….after all, I only paid $3 for it. Maybe I’ll try to find another one in better condition to keep in my library.

So as I hunker down indoors today to wait out the rain, I’m having a great time investigating my new treasures. I wouldn’t mind if it rained all day tomorrow too. I’m also doing this:

Ahh, now this is a good day. I hope you’ve enjoyed your introduction to armchair birding.

Hi, My Name is Kim and I’m a Bookaholic

You might be one too. Do you have books piled in every room of the house so you’ll always have something at hand to read? Do you keep a wish list on Amazon as a reminder of books you might want to buy? Do you, like me, download free sample chapters of Kindle books as further reminders of books to consider? Do you daydream about getting locked in a library or bookstore overnight? If so, you might be a bookaholic too.

My mom's Nancy Drew books
“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” ~ Marcel Proust

I’ve been a book lover since childhood, when I devoured everything I could get my hands on, from Mad Magazine to the Encyclopedia Britannica. I have clear memories of ordering paperback books for 35 cents each through my school, and my excitement on the days the books arrived. It was like Christmas every time. Nice shiny new paperbacks with all those stories inside to transport me to exciting places. Couldn’t get enough then, and can’t get enough now. Although these days I tend to read more nonfiction than Nancy Drew mysteries.

But it’s not just about acquiring the books, it’s about reading them. Well, maybe it’s partly about simply having them, at least with the traditional printed books. Heck, some of them are really pretty.

Paris bookstall - Ray Bradbury quote addedBut I have to admit, sometimes I get overwhelmed by my piles of books everywhere. And by my habit of reading too many at once because I got distracted by the next interesting one to come along.  Don’t tell anyone, but I have lots of books I’ve never read at all. Like the six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson that I found at the library’s used book sale for $2 each and couldn’t pass up. I fully intend to read it, eventually.

I don’t treat all my books equally either. Some are just for grazing whenever I have a few free minutes. Others are for studying, highlighting, and ruminating over. Those are the ones that are dangerous, because I usually end up following the author’s citations to even more books. It’s sort of like going on the Internet and clicking a link, then clicking yet another link, and eventually forgetting where you started.  Every book leads me to another, endlessly. And I love that.

My birding field guides and some general nature narratives
My birding field guides and some general nature narratives

Whatever the reasons or justifications for owning so many books, I know I’m certainly not alone in my compulsion to keep bringing more of them home. I’ll never forget the day my grad school professor had our class to his home for an end-of-semester party. I should explain that we were all in the masters program for library and information science, so there were many book lovers in the group. But as the professor gave us a tour of his lovely home in a historic section of Detroit, it quickly became apparent that he had us all beat in that department. Every wall of the house...every wall…was lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves jammed full. You’ve heard about Barbie’s Dream House? Well that was Kim’s Dream House. But the professor said the moving guys were none too pleased with them on moving day…too funny.

I'll use anything for a bookend!
I’ll use anything for a bookend!

And while I love my Kindle and the ability to download a book instantly whenever I want to read it, I can’t imagine life without traditional printed books too. Some people predicted the death of print books when e-readers became popular, but I’m confident both forms will co-exist for a long time.

On the coffee table right now...
On the coffee table right now…

And just because it’s fun to share, here’s a list of some books I’m reading and/or browsing  now, collected from various piles around the house:

  • Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides – Got this via interlibrary loan, so I only have it for 3 weeks….not long enough…need to focus!
  • Peterson Field Guide: Eastern Forests – Birding has led me to an increased interest in habitat types.
  • Atlas of Bird Migration – This is a great coffee table book to pick up, learn a bit, and put it back down.
  • Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv
  • Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, by Douglas Tallamy – Although I’ve heard about the importance of native plants for a long time, this is the first time I’ve really understood why they’re important to all of us.
  • Out of the Woods: A Bird Watcher’s Year, by Ora Anderson – Charming stories of life in the woods of southeastern Ohio (near the area I grew up in).

So tell me what you’re reading lately…I need something else to read. 🙂

You Need Some Vitamin N

That’s Vitamin N as in Nature, and most of us are deficient in it. There have been lots of books and articles written about the health benefits of ecotherapy lately, but many of them are supported primarily by anecdotal evidence and sloppy research. But now we have proof that time spent outdoors is essential for mental health and positive patterns of social functioning, based on rigorous research conducted by Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois. She says, In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others…. In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime — even after controlling for income and other differences. We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.”

I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about the study. If that doesn’t make you go outside, I don’t know what will! In fact, as I was gathering info for this article I had an urgent impulse to take a walk around our woods. So I did. And it felt gooood.

I’ve also been reading The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv, and find myself highlighting passage after passage for future reference. Did you know that exposure to the natural world can actually increase intelligence for some people? According to Louv, it apparently stimulates “our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative, even in dense urban neighborhoods.”

I think most creative types will be familiar with the inspiration that can strike during a walk in the woods or a stroll on the shore. I get lots of good ideas when I’m driving on a pretty country road, or even in the shower (I consider that “nature-like” since I’m in the water….). Other studies cited in this book (done by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan) suggest “that nature simultaneously calms and focuses the mind, and at the same time offers a state that transcends relaxation, allowing the mind to detect patterns that it would otherwise miss.”

I just found another book on this subject that sounds pretty good: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. I’ve just ordered it and will let you know what I think after I’ve had a chance to read it. In the meantime, here are a couple of my recent “therapy pics.” Enjoy!

Diversity and Tree-Hugging

I came across the website for the Fledging Birders Institute (“FBI”) the other day, noticing that they’re preparing for a conference to promote diversity among birders. Here’s what they say in describing the reasons this is necessary:

As of 2009, more than 35 percent of Americans fall into “non-White” categories such as Hispanic, African-American,
Asian, and Native-American. Yet, even generous measures of demographics show that “non-Whites” comprise significantly less than 10 percent of the birding community. Clearly, birding
does not look like the rest of America. Such disproportionate homogeneity exacerbates already problematic threats to the sustainability of the birding community, the birds’ habitat, and, by extension, the birds themselves.


The FBI also runs a very successful program called the Fledging Birders Challenge, in which groups of kids cooperate to see how many species of birds they can find in their schoolyard or local community in a month. Isn’t that a great way to get kids interested in birds and conservation?

The diversity conference reminded me of a book I’ve been making my way through called Colors of Nature: Cultural Identity and the Natural World.  It’s a collection of essays by authors of various ethnic and cultural minorities about their perspectives on environmental and nature issues. One of the essays that really stuck with me is called “Confronting Environmental Racism in the Twenty-First Century,” by Robert Bullard. He argues that poorer communities — often those of minorities — are discriminated against in subtle ways like unequal enforcement of zoning and pollution laws. He gives some specific examples of instances where poor communities are taken advantage of by polluting corporations. But just when you start getting sick to your stomach from all that negativity, he gives the good news that some of these communities are beginning to fight back, oftentimes winning.

Every time I drive through the south end of Detroit on my way to Ohio, there’s a section where I have to hold my nose because the pollution is so bad. And while I’m driving through trying not to breathe, I look at the homes I’m passing. Those people breathe this air 24/7. And obviously, if you could afford not to live in a place like that, you wouldn’t. So this is a clear instance of the poor having to suffer worse living conditions than those with the means to live elsewhere.

Ok, to end this on a more positive note I want to tell you about one last essay from Colors of Nature. This one is by Nalini Nadkarni, a woman of mixed heritage (Indian/Hindu and Brooklyn/Jewish parents). She writes about the impact of trees on her life, from childhood through her professional career as an educator and researcher in forest ecology. She links trees to meditation through the shared process of breathing; trees “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen. She says, “Knowing this, in those dark times, I could merely look out at the maple tree in our backyard and be reminded that I am connected to other living things.” I like that. As I write this in the shade of our large cottonwood tree, watching the birds flitting around on the freshly-filled feeders and birdbath, I’m comforted by the thought that the tree is giving all of us life-sustaining oxygen. And it makes that hard work look so easy.

Go out and hug a tree today, won’t you?