Purple Haze

I joined the YMCA last week and I’m now spending nearly 2 hours a day exercising. Unfortunately it’s making it difficult to get out birding because I know that if I skip many of the classes, I won’t bother going back.

I’ve continued to lose two to three pounds a month since I started dieting in September. My blood pressure seems to be down a little, but of course I won’t know about my cholesterol until I go back for a checkup next fall. At least I can imagine that I’m gettting healthier by the week.

It’s supposed to start raining again over the weekend, so you’ll just have to settle for pictures until I can get back to reading.

Here’s another photo from last Friday’s shoot:

Back to Dungeness

I returned to the Dungeness Naional Wildlife Refuge Sunday to see if I could see birds I’ve been unable to find locally and to enjoy our sunshine.

It was a beautiful, peaceful day and a meditative walk accompanied by the roar of the ocean. I was a little disappointed in the lack of unusual birds, or at least in what I thought was the lack of unusual birds.

There were lots of Bufflehead, Goldeneye, Scoters, and, particularly, Grebes like this little Horned Grebe:

In fact, there were so many grebes that I thought that these birds, that looked and swam like grebes, were merely a larger variety of grebes:

Turns out they were actually loons, in their non-breeding colors, the very birds I had come to see. This is apparently a Common Loon, though they’re still quite rare around here.

This, a Red-Throated Loon:

I felt more than a little stupid when I got home, looked at the identification book, and realized they weren’t grebes at all. After identifying them and reading online about them, hopefully I’ll be able to identify them correctly next time I see them.

Turns out, though, I’m not the only one who’s been confused by their similarity, at least if Wikepedia is to be believed:

The grebes are a radically distinct group of birds as regards their anatomy. Accordingly, they were at first believed to be related to the loons, which are also foot-propelled diving birds. However, as recently as the 1930s (Stolpe 1935), this was determined to be a crass example of convergent evolution by the strong selective forces encountered by unrelated birds sharing the same lifestyle at different times and in different habitat.

Tacoma’s Botanical Conservatory

Things have been rather hectic around here lately and I haven’t had much of an online presence because something went wrong with my computer and Photoshop wouldn’t open. I did some maintenance and ran Disk Utility and Drive Genius and both said the hard drive and system were fine.

Photoshop didn’t think so and still refused to startup. I reinstalled Photoshop and took Photoshop PS3, a beta, off the computer and still no Photoshop.

So I installed a system on my backup drive, updated it, and after several upgrades later, Photshop finally ran. But of course nothing else did because it was a clean system.

I proceeded to reinstall a clean system on my main drive and reinstall Photoshop CS3 again. I thought I had my problems solved and I could get on with normal activities. I was wrong, of course. Aperture had to be reinstalled and an upgrade applied before it would run.

Two days of work later, I have a fully functional computer that even seems a little snappier than before because a considerable number of programs were taken off the computer to free up disk space. Though I’m sure there are still other programs I will need to reinstall in the next few weeks.

Despite the computer problems, it’s been a beautiful few days here. On Friday I returned to the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory since it semed a better place to enjoy a warm sunny day than among the leafless trees.

I thought this shot did the best job of capturing the essence of sunshine:

But this was a close runner-up:

I Got Jizz

Well, at least more than rhythm. Of course I didn’t realize it until I read this paragraph in Barnes’ How to Be a (BAD) Birdwatcher:

That is the principle on which jizz works. Jizz is the art of seeing a bird badly and still knowing what it is. And there is only one way of learn how to do it, and that is by watching birds. Not chasing them or ticking them. Watching. Bird watching is a despised term in some circles; they prefer the meatier term birding. But without watching there is no birding. You watch, you seek a name you carry on watching, and from watching you learn. Or rather, you absorb. You see your bird from awkward angles, making curious, ungainly shapes half-hidden by leaves; as we have already noted birds do not, in the main, line up in profile looking hard left, as they always do in field guides. No field guide can teach movement; you can only learn it by watching. Silhouetted birds, flying across field-that one with the all-day rowing action is a row; that buoyant glide and sideslip is a gull. That switchbacking flight is a great spotted woodpecker. That flap-flap-glide is a bird of prey.

Nor did I realize it until I found myself pointing out certain birds to other people out walking the refuge. In fact, I was amazed when I first discovered that I could identify an awful lot of birds accurately after a year of serious watching.

For awhile, birding was mostly about the thrill of getting a bird I’d never captured before, but gradually it became more than that:

You acquire the skill of jizz recognition simply by looking. By looking at birds you have already identified; because, you see, identification is the beginning and not the end of the process-and that is why birdwatching, good and bad, is the exact opposite of train-spotting. Every seeing is a moment of greater understanding. Every seeing makes the bird more fully a part of you, a part of your life.

And again, I don’t mean this in a sloppy New Age way; I mean it in a hard, no-
nonsense way. You can’t recognize a bird by jizz unless it has become a part
of your life: until, that is to say, its pattern and behavior are stored in your brain, ready to be accessed the next time you lay eyes on it.

You start with the common birds-how else could you do it? There are, as I have said, more common birds than rare ones. And understand this: the hunt for rare birds can’t be done until you know the common ones. How do you know it’s rare unless you know all the other birds that are not rare?

Now I appreciate greeting old friends as they return from their travels. Now I find it hard to go anywhere without noticing the birds that are there.

Barnes is certainly right that

The more you look, the more you see. Every passing minute is richer, more rewarding. The more birds you see, the more birds you see. When you recognize the patterns of daily life among the birds you know, you will recognize something that breaks that pattern. Those familiar starlings, feeding in a gang on the ground, quarreling companionably with one another. And in an instant they are all gone: Why? What?

And you learn to look up when this happens, and behold. You are rewarded: a hawk swerving away having missed its pass; the starlings were too quick this time. Once you understand the ordinary you prepare the way for the exceptional. Once you have begun to savor the quiet joys of everyday birds, you have made yourself ready for the peak experiences. You are ready for that combination of the gloriously normal and the staggeringly unexpected that is the heart of the life of the bad birdwatcher, and the good.

I’m amazed at how often I’ll see a remarkable bird, but more often than not when I ask others if they saw what I did, they reply that they didn’t see anything at all. Of course, I suspect a few years ago I wouldn’t have noticed them either.

Now that I’m into my second year of birding, I’ve also become much more aware of the seasons:

Time matters. In the spring I go to Minsmere to see the birds breeding, defending territories. I can, if I look carefully, see the fluffy chicks. Is there anything quite as charming as a new avocet, with its tiny retroussé beak? The Scrape, the most famous part of the reserve-the place where you find the avocets-is teeming, teeming with food, teeming with birds eating it and using it as fuel to breed. When I go back in autumn, the chicks are gone, and other odds and sods drop by, some for a long stay others to refuel on their way elsewhere. And in winter, there are times when the Scrape is untenanted: once I saw nothing but a crow on this, the most famous bit of habitat in British birdwatching. But in the spring, the wet meadows known as the Minsmere Levels are pretty quiet; in winter, they are crowded with gulls and geese, thousands of them. It you go looking for birds, you need to understand about place and about time.

And as you begin to understand time, you begin to understand the
rhythm of the year as the birds understand it-as the birds live it.
Understanding time is not just the key to seeing more birds. If you
understand the year as a bird does, you have taken a step outside the
human narrowness of vision. As you understand a bird’s vision of time,
you find you have begun to understand how the earth itself lives
and breathes.

When you’re out in the world enjoying nature, you no longer need calendars. The birds, or absence of birds, will tell you more accurately than any calendar what time of year it is.