Taking wing with a new hobby
November 7, 2011
We're due for a cultural backlash against the many forms of electronic entertainment that are sapping our health and quality of life, for a new kind of hero who will inspire the country to get into shape and focus on something more important than Kim Kardashian's faux wedding.
We need a hero who knows his grouse from his wood cock, his meganser from his bufflehead.
That hero may come in the form of a character from a current movie, The Big Year, which highlights the drama and competition of bird watching. Yes, that said “bird watching.”
While the movie follows three men who criss-cross the country looking to record sightings of the most bird species in a year (a singular pursuit that stresses relationships and credit cards alike), bird watching dramas play out around us every day. This morning when you were making coffee, someone nearby was launching his kayak in the pre-dawn darkness, paddling silently across a lake to check on the variety of ducks overnighting on the far shore; while you were raking this weekend, many of your neighbors were traveling to the various National Wildlife Sanctuaries to record sightings of common and unusual winged creatures. And that friend who constantly checks the messages on his phone? Maybe he was watching for rare bird sightings updates rather than the Patriots score.
Do you know your meganser from your bufflehead?
The quiet pursuit has been popular in Massachusetts for 100 years, having started with the founding of the Audubon Society – a response to the killing of millions of colorful birds for their plumage which was used on women's hats. Since then, many participated through bird watching clubs that compare notes and locations (easier now thanks to the Internet).
If you're itching to give it a try, perhaps start with big targets: Quabbin Reservoir and its resident bald eagles, which are not hard to spot.
And if that motivates you to bundle up and get outside, perhaps participating in next winter's annual Bird Count is a logical step.
For those who can't leave technology behind, there's an app for that, too: a field guide to birds available on your iPhone.