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.

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.

(From: http://www.fledgingbirders.org/CFABpurpose.html)

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?