It has been exactly a year – well exactly 11 months, 15 days, and four hours – since I found the two Indigo Buntings in the Walnut Creek Open Space. For that bit of luck, I received approximately 6 minutes of the 15 minutes of fame promised by Andy Warhol in 1968. (I wish I’d said that: I might have actually gotten 15 minutes of fame.)
It’s been a year, and little has happened to me that would bring a kudo or two. I’ve thought a lot about that. What a waste of time. Striving for fame cuts into more productive endeavors such as this world-unknown blog and my prize-winning photos that haven’t won any prizes yet. It’s like winning an Oscar. Quick! Who won the Oscar for best Actress in 1958? Ehhhh! Time’s up. If time wasn’t up, you’d be wasting time looking for someone else’s fame.
I deserve fame, but I’ll sell my chances for that and becoming a Congressman for a buck. (Sucker. I would have settled for 50¢ – that would be 50p in England I think. You get the idea.) So here’s what I’m asking you. On my web site with the clever URL of ethanwinning.com, I want you all to leave comments about my best pictures, but I want you do it figuratively with your hands tied behind your back, i.e., you cannot use the following words: fantastic, wonderful, marvelous, amazing, awesome. If you use “awesome,” you’re either 15 or would like to be. If you need help with adjectives, look at any comic book first. “WOW!” is perfectly acceptable. “Phantasmagorical” is even better. For those of you outside of North America – like Venus or Saturn – use something in your native language like supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.
If you feel moved to leave behind a comment, make sure that’s all you leave behind. Uh, no, that’s not what I meant. If you feel inclined … then you’re not on the level. No, that’s not it. If you want to comment on a photo, please try to choose a photo that I like.
You all know I love this shot of the Anna’s Hummingbird at a Mexican Salvia. Save you best new adjectives for that. Don’t waste them on some photo that is incidental like … (hold on, WordPress has changed how you add a picture) this one which everybody, being a clever lot, would call “Bottoms Up.”
Well, this is pretty bad. WordPress won’t let me insert a photo where it should be, and I have a hunch, they’ll all be together at the bottom of the post. Therefore, let the chips fall where they may. Use your formatting imaginations.
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself. Take some of my newer phenomenal shots and comment about those. Unless, of course, you consider some of my worst shots to be phenomenal. And then you can say “Phenomenal” when in your own mind you think “phenomenally bad, but why ruin his day and lose another point toward sainthood for myself.”
When I started my sojourn into the world of birds if not “birders,” every new species was a marvel. What I really couldn’t comprehend was what had changed. The birds had always been there – well, except for the Indigo Bunting which we all know hasn’t really shown up here in 250 years, not with his brother anyway – but I hadn’t noticed them. Think about it: normally, we notice things that are part of our landscape until one day, they’re not there any more. What happened to that Robin? Or, “it’s Spring and I haven’t heard a Robin.” Or, “What’s a Robin look like? Batman I know, but Robin…” A new acquaintance of mine – an author of neat (oh, how she’ll love that adjective) mysteries set in Oregon on the Columbia – just said this morning that she just saw a Yellow-rumped warbler, and she’d never noticed them before. They’re residents or, if really huge, residence (isn’t English great) yet she’d never seen them before. Well, until 5 years ago, I was so involved in making it to retirement that I didn’t know a Scrub Jay from an Ash-throated Flycatcher.
Five years later, I can be a real pain because I can explain the difference between a Nuttall’s and a Downy Woodpecker. Twenty months ago, I saw a female Nuttall’s excavating a nest. Two weeks ago, I saw the chicks emerge, and two days ago they were gone, but at least I noticed they were gone.
The unknown They have said that the best way to learn is to teach. So I taught my wife (and a few others) how to use the point-and-shoot
Canon (forget I mentioned them: they’ve never reciprocated) camera, and in the process I learned more about birds because I could no longer say, “Look over there! A tree swallow!” First I had to show her what a tree swallow looks like, and then I had to explain what “over there!” meant. And then I learned that there’s a huge difference in perspective when you’re 4’11″ tall or 6’2″ (on a really good day). I might well be at eye level with that Bullock’s oriole, while she’s looking up at any angle. And saying, “Over there!” has got to be adjusted to “third branch from the bottom, about five feet from the top of that sycamore and maybe 12:20.” Of course by the time you say all that, the bird has gone. All 9 of my bird guide books are now on my wife’s desk along with my favorite bird app. (Nope, no credit there either. Oh, okay. The only app or guide written/developed by a birder who lives on the West Coast and cares enough to include the aforementioned Nuttall’s Woodpecker – a strictly California bird – is iBird2. You’ll find that all the rest of those folks don’t seem to care about what’s on this side of the Rockies.) Anyway, my wife has learned a lot about some species of birds, but there is the factor of recency: if you don’t use this knowledge on a regular basis, all you can remember is what bird you saw yesterday.
One day about 18 months ago, my friend Peeter – a birder, I mean a true honest-to-Pete BIRDER – said to me that the birds were not migrating through as they should or normally do, and I said to him, “Why don’t you take pictures of butterflies and dragonflies and anything else that flies to tide you over?” And he did, but then where he identified birds for me for the the first four years of my birding and now for the tough old birds like gulls and Madonna, I became the identifier of dragons and damsels and butterflies. Let me tell you that there are 10,000 species of birds in the world, but there are 17,000 species of butterflies. In other words, except for gulls that molt 200 times a year and are identified as a “First winter, third spring, semi-palmated, juvenile Heermann’s Gull” I got the tougher job, but I can now point out the Acmon Blue and the Funereal Duskywing.
Finally, in the process, I’ve learned behaviors and migratory routes and stuff like that. The first think I taught my wife and another friend Stan is that a Phoebe – in essence, a flycatcher – flies from a perch, catches the insect, and usually returns to the same perch. So, if you focus on that perch (known as a pickeral in some parts of the country), you’ll probably get a good shot of him on the return. There are disappointing lessons to be learned as well. The Belted Kingfisher will always be on the other side of the island from where you’re standing! It’s absolutely true!
My stream of consciousness and effects of drugs has come to an end. If you got anything out of this, thank my friend Timm who lives where all the birds of paradise and poison frogs and gorgeous butterflies are along with 97% humidity: he said in an email yesterday that he’s waited long enough for another blog post. In addition to teaching Biology, Herpetology, and all things buggy (and macro/micro photography), is also fairly good at providing guilt trips. So, Timm, this was for you!
(And now you can’t even remember why these photos are here…right?)