Thursday, November 12, 2015

9 Ways Birding Has Changed my Life




My favorite tail-less Red-winged Blackbird female

So I’m a birder- irreversibly, obsessively, and unashamedly taken with birds. 

As Tom Heatley (local Michigan birder and #14 on the 2014 ABA United States Top 50 list) says, “Birding is a disease, and the only cure is more birding!” Throughout the past year, I have discovered and fallen in Love with this passion. I refrain from calling it a hobby because its effects are more profound. If I listed all of these, it would be the stuff of a novel not a blog post. Instead, here are 9 of the ways birding has changed my life:


#1) A Calm in the Storm
Birding has allowed me to fight some tough battles, including addiction. There came a point where I wanted to be free but didn’t know how to fight through the hard stuff. On days I felt tired, sick, or anti-social, birding allowed me to more willingly exist in that uncomfortable space. The calming effect of nature, the fresh air in my lungs, and the overwhelming realization of the beauty surrounding me; these things all brought a peace that nothing else could.
#2) Zen
A few years ago, I discovered meditation through running, pushing through physical discomforts and rising above the body. Birding has produced a similar effect, except with birding I can actually be still. I can easily spend hours on end, walking through the woods and sitting under trees, never considering the time until the sun begins to set. As I embrace the values of patience, stillness, and an openness of the mind and senses, birding hours seem like minutes to me. In the Buddhist tradition, the forest is considered a special place for enlightenment, for within it “there is only the ever-present possibility of events, encounters, and insights that emerge directly from reality itself, pure and unpolluted by human wants, expectations, and attitudes. Uniquely in the forest, the most radical of all human journeys can take place” (excerpt from Reginald A Ray’s Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body).
#3) Constant Wonder
When I began to get serious about birding, I realized how many local birds I had never seen before. These birds had been living nearby or passing through the area since long before I was born, yet I had never noticed them. Each new bird is a moment of realization, a chance to be curious, amazed, attentive, and aware. Sometimes it isn’t even the new birds that excite me, rather a close encounter, a great photo, or an unusual behavior. Birding keeps me on my toes and keeps me looking up (double meaning intended).
#4) A Break in Routine
Birding changes the landscape of days and lessens the divide between the workweek and the weekend. I’ve never subscribed to the idea of “The Grind”, of working Monday-Friday 9-5 and wishing it all away. I live my life for the day, even if it’s Monday. After all, every day is a new chance for adventure!

#5) A Network of Friends
Kevin R., Jeff S., and me (Photo courtesy: Paul Poronto)
Here I am, one full year into birding, and I’ve somehow managed to meet and befriend more people than I ever have in a single year. Through eBird, walks in the park, and a string of serendipitous events, I have quickly built up a network of birder friends who could also be described as family. These birders have welcomed me into their homes, taken me under their wings on road trips across Michigan, and shared with me anything I need including: toe warmers, extra gloves, bug spray, sunblock, snacks, equipment, books, hugs, and most importantly, an endless stream of knowledge. We don’t always have to be together but when we are, we pick up right where we left off, somewhere within our mutual love of birds.
#6) A Breath of Relief
Since graduating high school in 2007, I have never had a clear plan for my career. I used to spend many days worrying over my lack of conviction. I felt directionless, lost, and envious of those who knew what they wanted to do with their lives. To be honest, I am still quite uncertain about my career goals, but now the not-knowing doesn’t bother me as much. I found what fills my heart with joy and discovered something in birding from which nothing can detract. Blogging about birds has been a recent development. It has given me hope that my marketing education and birding passion can in fact be linked. If I can use my degree to share my passion, that would be the best-case scenario. Until then, I can be at peace with the uncertainty because I find peace in birds.
#7) A New Role
While I’ve always been an avid reader and sponge for knowledge, I have never considered myself a good teacher. Anyone who has witnessed my teaching attempts would understand this, as I often stutter through explanations and make up words as I go. I am very much an introvert who prefers to lead by example rather than explain something. However, birding seems to be the exception. This passion has given me an entirely new identity. People now come to me with their bird questions and sightings because they know I will be interested and will provide feedback. I find myself surprised at my willingness to offer information, reach out to others, and yes, even teach others about birds. To be depended on in that way feels like a sign of maturity and an indication I have something meaningful to offer.
#8) A Test of Limits
Birding may sound like the antithesis of adrenaline-seeking, but for me, it has been the motivation to broaden my horizons and test my limits. Consider last winter when Kevin (friend and fellow birder) and I spent hours trudging through snow in frigid temperatures. We were searching for Long-eared Owls who had been spending time in a particular patch of trees. As soon as we were enveloped in that dark canopy of conifers, standing right underneath an impossibly camouflaged Long-eared Owl, there was simply no other place to be. Alternately, I have never been on a plane and am still terrified at the idea. Still, despite my fear, I know one day I will want to expand my birding horizons and visit birds that would never reach Michigan. I find it fitting that birds will most likely be my incentive to fly.
#9) Natural Connection
While birds are often the main subjects of my adventures and photos, they are not the only creatures with whom I have connected. I have always loved nature and the outdoors, but now I feel even more connected to it and aware of it. More and more, I find myself a keeper, collector, and protector of nature. I save centipedes; allow spiders to crawl on my hands; pick wildflowers; collect rocks, leaves, and shells; and eat wild berries. Some days the birding is slow, but there is always, always something beautiful to be seen.
The following is an excerpt from a book that speaks to my soul, a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D. In this passage, Estés discusses the effects of the Wild Woman, or true feminine nature:
Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
These transient ‘tastes of the wild’… come both through beauty as well as loss, that cause us to become so bereft, so agitated, so longing that we eventually must pursue the wildish nature. Then we leap into the forest or into the desert or into the snow and run hard, our eyes scanning the ground, our hearing sharply tuned, searching under, searching over, searching for a clue, a remnant, a sign that we have not lost our chance. And when we pick up her trail, it is typical of women to ride hard to catch up, to clear off the desk, clear off the relationship, clear out one’s mind, turn to a new page, insist on a break, break the rules, stop the world, for we are not going on without her any longer… When women reassert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, an oracle, an inspiratrice, an intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge vibrant life in the inner and outer words.



22 comments:

  1. It's beautiful how you describe your connection to birds and nature. In this post you bring life back to the simple things, which most forget about. This was refreshing and inspirational to read.

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  2. It's beautiful how you describe your connection to birds and nature. In this post you bring life back to the simple things, which most forget about. This was refreshing and inspirational to read.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I believe the best things in life are those that can be easily missed. The good thing is that they are right there in front of us should we choose to look for them. :)

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  3. Andrea thanks for sharing. Very enjoyable read.

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  4. Andrea thanks for sharing. Very enjoyable read.

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    1. And thanks for taking the time to read my posts, Jeff. Means a lot. :)

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  5. Your post outlines how I think most birders feel, but wouldn't or couldn't put into words.

    Birding for me has been similar, and has also taught me to slow down. One simply cannot bird very well when going too fast, and I generally like to do everything quickly. It's a lovely lesson that a slower pace brings better results.

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  6. Birding is something I have never really thought about. It is interesting to read the ways birding has changed your life and it seems like it would be a calming and peaceful thing to do. Where do you see the most unique birds? I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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    1. Believe it or not, this year, I have seen 154 species of birds in Macomb County alone (I am currently 16th on the eBird's Macomb County birder list by number of species; and the guy who is ranked 1 has seen 237 species in Macomb in 2015)! By far the majority of my sightings come from Lake St. Clair Metropark (usually around the nature center trails, sometimes by the shore or elsewhere in the park). I like to go to all different parks at times too, though. Impromptu road trips are always fun too. I need to get a job where I can work from home!

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  7. This post - so touching. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Maybe that's another thing birding will do for me; help me share my story. Thank you so much!

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  8. Beautifully written. Birding can enhance many aspects of life. Being out in Nature has its own rewards, but birding is the icing on the cake!

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  9. I honestly don't know what to say, thanks for sharing something you're really passionate about. Great read.

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  10. The passion for your craft shows in your blog. Growing up, I spent many hours in the wood observing animals acting naturally and feeling a part of their world. I wish I had the time to do it again. Thanks for the memories.

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  11. I really enjoyed this post. I think it's great that you have found something that you are so passionate about. Not everyone is as lucky to have found something that truly makes them feel like a better person!

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  12. This is so interesting! I don't think many people realize how big birding is. There is a marsh really close to our cabin near Hail and Tawas City, and there are always quite a few people there who are birding. They seem so happy to be there and I completely understand why. I don't know a lot about birds, but I know they are beautiful, they fly (which makes them look so free) and while watching them, you get to take in the natural beauty of the outdoors. What more do you need?

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    1. Yes Holly, Tawas is like the holy grail for Michigan birders. I've been there a few times since starting my birding "career" and the first time will go down in history as one of the best days of my life. Sounds nerdy, but so true. :)

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  13. Beautifully written! You describe my feelings and thoughts many years ago when a little Cedar Waxwing changed my life and my perspective of the natural world forever!

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    1. Thanks Diane. I Love the community and silent understanding that comes with birding.

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    2. Did you see my first blog post? It was about Cedar Waxwings. :)

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    3. Yes, I read that, Andrea. What a wonderful story! The Cedar Waxwing was my spark bird too, but it happened in a different way. I will tell you about it one day.

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