Why I go birding

Wings Big Year

Birders go birding for many reasons. Mine?

  • Some spend their lives studying birds, with any number of specialized foci. True naturalists who are birders count themselves in this group, as do properly entitled ornithologists. Me, I enjoy a modicum of research and knowledge but at age 63 I’d need to throw in a couple of fulltime years to become anything like fully knowledgeable. So this is not a primary driver for me, though for my Cranes project, I’ll dig in deep.
  • Twitchers love to tick birds off a list; this obsession might derive from a love of details or some observers call this the modern equivalent of hunting. Bird photographers fall into this category. I love bird lists and end-of-the-day bird counts, and I get a real thrill out of snaring a lifer, but I don’t dwell on my lists, which are, I’ve begun to realize, a means to a deeper end. Perhaps ticking off a bird just makes me feel more competent (rather than the bad birder I am).
  • Nature lovers swoon over observing birds, just watching them in their habitats. One of the reasons I bird is to feel that sense of connection with the wider natural, but I easily tire from extended observation. At heart, I’m an impatient city boy with no natural affinity for sinking into nature.

So I’m all of the above but none of them. I’m just a bumbling but devoted amateur. This realization hit me yesterday on a tram, thinking of the Cranes project. It came to me: I don’t have to apprentice as an ornithologist or aspire to 5,000 birds ticked or spend months in the bush. All I need do is realize there is some inner passion tugging me towards birding. Call the Cranes project my obedience to that passion. For this project and for this project alone, I’ll research the heck out of fifteen species, I’ll travel the world chalking up full observation and knowledge, and I’ll revel in our wondrous Earth.

Wings Big Year work: IPBES and the Crane species

Wings Big Year

Today I began digging into what seems like a major document, the Global Assessment of the IPBES (the flora/fauna equivalent of the IPCC, that is, the experts asked to check out how Earth’s animals, birds, trees, plants, etc. are doing). It’s the first such report since 2005 and should, I guess, be read in the context of accelerating global warming impacts. My little brain can’t readily absorb it all, so I thought: why not scan it (including any backing sources) in connection with my Cranes project?

It turns out the full report isn’t out yet. A 39-page “Summary for Policymakers” is and I grabbed that from a Guardian article and the image accompanying that post is from the Guardian. (Actually later I tracked down the full IPBES press release which includes additional material, though I haven’t parsed that yet.)

Specifically (and this is just off the top of my head, so it will change), I’m interested in the fifteen species of Cranes as a combined embodiment of the lousy legacy we’re leaving our grandchildren. ICF (the International Cranes Foundation) lists one species as Critically Endangered, three species as Endangered, and seven as Vulnerable, which sounds to me an overall harbinger of crane doom. What does this bellwether IPBES report say, if anything, about Cranes? Who rates species as healthy or about to go under? Am I able to glean from these initial steps if my beloved Cranes species will be around for my grandchildren to go see with binoculars? If I can’t judge thus, who do I need to ask?

Elizabeth Kolbert warns from the pulpit of The New Yorker

Elizabeth Kolbert on IPBES

Our Earth slowly, ever so slowly, heats up while we add humans to our Earth. I remember Paul Ehrlich thundering on about population growth in the 70s. False alarm, many said, but a new IPBES report (think of them as the IPCC of fauna and flora, 300 superb, worried scientists) points out that we’ve doubled in population over my last half century. The consequences (as Kolbert ably reports)? We’ve dug up three quarters of Earth’s land, are impacting two-thirds of our oceanic areas, have killed off half of Earth’s coral, and have ripped out 85% of Earth’s wetlands. Throw in climate change and a million species of non-human life, some of them (bees! who would have thought?) vital to our survival, will go extinct. It’s time to stop burning coal, that’s the first non-negotiable step, folks.

Wings Big Year: A restart

Wings Big Year

A plan. I’ll keep going everyday with sharp bursts of research and writing, but drop the time requirement to half an hour a day. That’s all I need, but I do wish to stick the course with daily attention. Daily works best, in my opinion. I’ll now focus on what I need to do to start a Cranes project next year: a project plan, a rough budget, a marketing pitch, and essential background knowledge. Onwards!

(A dancing Red-crowned Crane, photo from Shutterstock)

Wings Big Year: The pain of giving up a dream

Wings Big Year

I’ve kept up with daily thinking and research on birding but my heart hasn’t been in it. Only now do I realize just how painful was the ditching, back in February, of my vague dream to see all fifteen crane species, dotted around the globe, in one calendar year. A Cranes Big Year I’ve been calling it for nearly four years. And now it’s abandoned. I know this decision was correct – too tough, too expensive, too ambitious – but quitting a dream hits hard. At the time, I decided to reshape that big year as a multi-year project but have felt no motivation since to do so. Now I’ve decided to reshape this Wings Big Year, for the remaining eight months of 2019. I’ll reshape it around that longer-term project to bear witness to these magnificent birds before they vanish from the face of the earth. Tomorrow’s job of concentrated re-imagination…

Author Big Year: Days 140 to 149

Author Big Year

Life never stays still. Mine swirls. I have my second book coming out next Thursday, I’m obsessively losing weight (more on that another time) after dropping the ball for three quarters of a year, grandparenting is more time intensive than I’d forecast, etc., etc.

But over the last ten days, I’ve kept at it, clocking up 6 hours/day on average, only slightly down from the target 6 ½, although I should be closer to 7 hours/day because this period has been mostly uninterrupted. I’d like to have spent an hour per day more on drafting than I have, but I’m not unhappy.

That said, the next three weeks are crucial. Quiet, steady work, prioritised optimally, that’s the aim.

Words are a lifelong education

Author Big Year

I first came across COPACETIC in one of James Lee Burke’s florid, brilliantly written Robicheaux series. The hero’s sidekick, out-of-control Clete Purcel, uttered the words in casual conversation and I had to scramble to my dictionary. The word means “very good or going very well” and it’s a dialogue word, not an in-text word.

It turned out James Lee Burke would trot out this word too often for my liking and in recent years I’ve dropped his books. But Nadia, the hero of the brilliant “Russian Doll” Netflix series (I’ve reviewed Episode 1, with the other episodes’ reviews out soon), uses the word, much to my pleasure. But here’s the amazing thing. Nadia’s utterance was the first time I ever heard “copacetic” spoken. I’d assumed it’s pronounced “coppa-ketic,” which has a nice ring to it. No, not at all! Nadia pronounces it “coppa-setic.”

Isn’t language wonderful?

Big Decade climate change impetus: Read this!

Big Decade and climate change

34 central banks issued an open letter five days ago, outlining how the world’s big banks reckon they should act as climate change accelerates. More worrying, though, is the language of normally reticent bankers towards the end of the letter:

“The stakes are undoubtedly high, but the commitment of all actors in the financial system to act on these recommendations will help avoid a climate-driven “Minsky moment” – the term we use to refer to a sudden collapse in asset prices.”

My corporate career, among finance professionals, never produced this kind of emotion. The back of my neck crawls.

Wings Big Year: A Corella

Wings Big Year

I’ve been noodling away at the subject matter for this Big Year, namely what is birding and why do I care and what might I need to know in order to write about it. But my internal debate has stultified. Yesterday, in Docklands of all places, I spied some Little Corellas, waddling on grass, with other species, pecking away, and I stopped to admire their handsome features and purposefulness. I realized this project needs a restart. I’ll go back to square one: much has changed in my life recently, is birding still so important?

Author Big Year: Day 139

Author Big Year

Last Thursday I wrote: I’m still trying to shed a five-week-old, minor, yet annoying, cold, so I rose an hour late. First-thing tasks meant I got to my Finders Keepers table as late as 10 AM but then I settled in, better than I have for ages. What’s changed? Well, for one thing, the next five weeks are quiet ones at home. For another, some of the acute mental anxiety over the plots of a couple of chapters seems to have abated, seemingly subconsciously. And soon Gentle & Tusk #2 will be out in the world and I can stop fretting over that. In any case, I worked really well for four hours on Chapter 11, the economics story. 673 words, rather pleasing. Eight hours in all. Good.