Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Maria's Big Year

Recently, we saw a sweet, and funny, movie about birding. The Big Year follows three bird enthusiasts through a calendar year of trying to sight as many bird species, in North America, as possible. For some this is a personal challenge, and for others a more intense obsession.

Guess who got inspired...

As the end credits rolled, Maria was already drumming up our support for doing our own big year! "We should totally do that," she declared. And we nodded, sleepily, amusedly.

The next morning, armed with three bird reference books, Maria began her quest... for binoculars. She was in earnest. She couldn't find any of those, but I agreed to let her use my Little Blue Camera, and thus prepared, she set off on her big year.

Ten minutes later she came in, describing the particular song, of a particular yellow bird singing in our jacaranda trees. We studied the pictures she took, she searched her little birding book, then another. I got out the Audubon guide. She opened up Google images, and sat with her two books, comparing tail sizes, beak shapes, and geographic ranges of yellow bird species. I sat there and marveled at this child, this little wonder of curiosity and dedication. Oh my.

But we could not (cannot!) figure this one out. So, I grabbed my Big Black Beautiful Camera, joined her in the garden, and she said, in the awed, hushed tone of a birder, "Listen. That's our bird. Do you hear them?"


Here is one. A bright, buttery yellow beneath. A dark mask. The almost downyness of the breast feathers made us suspect that these may be juveniles. You cannot ask me to describe their song, because I cannot describe their song, or any bird song... how do people do this? Read "pttt-twee-ahwoo-ahwoo," then whistle those same words and determine they are hearing a rust rumped warbler? (Not a real bird, I don't think.)


Gosh, something about this makes me want to guess young cedar waxwings. That would be pretty amazing! What do you think? Do you recognize this species?

Yesterday we saw mallard ducks, and western bluebirds, mourning doves, and chickens. Technically, I suppose, the chickens don't count. They're wild, and free range, but not wild and free.

Maria just now walked into my office, wearing a bird print skirt and a T-shirt with an owl. Guess who wants to go birding...

27 comments:

  1. I loved that movie! it didn't get much attention when it was released in the theatres.

    Maybe the are baby orioles. I remember as a kid we had orioles that made a nest in our banana trees, in Carlsbad, California. They make a very interesting nest, kind of like a sack. Here's a link: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/baltimore-oriole/

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    1. Wasn't it nice? Not that I expect to read about Oscar nominations, nor do I want to run it by critics, but seeing a movie with dialogue, covering a topic that is real, skipping explosions-drama-exploitation... it was pleasant and entertaining... too rare.

      Two neighborhood friends have very definitely seen Orioles in their yards... bright colors, like Dallas describes. So, is their range broader than published, or do we have a local variety... the search continues!

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  2. PS: i guess it would be weird if they are Baltimore Orioles, since they are supposed to be on the East half of the country. Maybe there's a west coast version? My dad loved birds and he's the one that told me those were orioles way back in 1958 or so in Carlsbad.

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    1. Banana plants, in Carlsbad, 1958! They are around here, too, and I've wondered for how long has our climate been suitable for such a tropical plant?

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  3. The great thing about the camera is that she can document her finds as well as a season of exciting new discovery! My son did the same thing when he was Maria's age and recieved his great-grandfathers binocculars.

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    1. I agree... documenting her finds, maybe starting a scrapbook, will be a fun bonus. Your son must have felt honored receiving those binoculars!
      Thank you for visiting Chickenblog, Laura.

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  4. I'd guess a warbler, but all my birding books are for Northern California (or Belgium, or southeast US), so I can't narrow it down beyond that. I'll ask Thomas, who is much better at bird-ID than me, and see if he has any guesses. It doesn't look like a cedar waxwing to me, and I think of orioles as having a brighter yellow or almost orange.

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    1. I'm going to look up warblers, again. Sara's link to the National Geographic page is a great help, and includes bird calls. Maria even asked me to download the Audubon app for iPhone... !! Kids these days, so savvy. Please, ask Thomas. We need help.

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  5. By the way, I haven't seen the movie, but that book, The Big Year, helped me get more excited about birding too.

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    1. It was a fun movie, with plenty of birding, and since I missed the very beginning, I only suspected it might be based on a true story and book. Geoff read up, and told me the book is supposed to be very good. Our year living in Minnesota took my interest in birding from nothing to amateur. I definitely want to read the book now.

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  6. Western kingbirds. Had not seen them here before. BTW, when I was poor, birding was my hobby. Lifelist was 320+. I would LOVE to go birding with you.

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    1. You're on!
      I was thinking of guiding Maria toward the idea of a Lifelist, which might feel more rewarding, since we won't be in the Everglades, Alaska, or Arizona in the next twelve months!

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  7. This brings back memories of when I was around Maria's age (over 50 years ago – yikes!) and I had a book about birds that had pages in the back for me to write my own notes. I can still picture my scrawly handwriting. Thanks for the memories!
    I love how your entire family embodies excitement, dedication, and creativity.
    (Please keep blogging!)
    Sylvia

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  8. I was thinking Cassin's Kingbirds but they could be Western depending on your location. I'm a birder so I appreciate Maria's enthusiasm. I still am awed by the beauty that flows overhead that I didn't know existed until I became aware. Good luck in your birding endeavours! And pick up a copy of Sibley's Guide to Birds, complete or Western edition.

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    1. We seem to have some agreement... Cassin's Kingbird does appear to be an even closer match. I tell yeah... the search for a match is as much fun as the sighting! Thank you for the book suggestion, and for visiting Chickenblog!

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  9. Ooh, I like the suggestion of Cassin's Kingbird. I've never heard of a kingbird, it looks very similar on Google Images. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Agreed. It's pretty spot on.
      I want to go in the yard and hopefully hear it sing again,
      because the National Geographic bird call sounds really familiar.

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  10. I can't identify that many birds, but I do love to hear them singing and chirping.

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    1. Seeing them, and hearing them... the essence of birding pleasure for me too!

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  11. I have no idea which type of bird that is...but I think this is so cool of Maria to do! What an amazing little girl you've got.

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  12. This looks great, whenever we go shooting pictures of birds I see nothing but Patricia stops me and there it is in the bush.
    I get to like it in time, in any case it is very relaxing.

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    1. Twenty-two years ago, when I started paying attention, it was a delight to realize 'they've been there all along, and I just needed to slow down and notice!' It's fun when you can feel relaxed about it, and just have something more to notice in the world.

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  13. I just checked your picture against a Western Kingbird I photographed at the San Elijo Lagoon in 2009 and it is the same, although I would say yours are young ones. Could show you if you want.
    Fantastic that you are into the adventure!! I got hooked 2 years ago when I started photographing local birds at the lagoon and continue the joy in Australia. It's such a great excuse to get yourself outdoors.

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  14. Well...my Roger Tory Peterson guide says Cassin's are rare around these parts. They prefer higher altitudes. Cassin's are darker than Western kingbirds and their white chins are whiter!

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  15. When I was Maria's age my Dad brought over my Christmas gifts from him.He handed me one that was heavy and he whispered to me that it was a 5 pound box of chocolates.I ran to the bathroom scale and it did weigh 5 pounds,oh the excitement.Come Christmas morning I opened the package to find a huge volume on the birds of America.My Dad and I spent the next two years bird watching together.Best present ever!

    I still have the book and still use it but I didn't find your bird in it.

    Happy watching and happy memory making.

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  16. P.S,oops I forgot to say...

    I looked at the images too,I think the Cassin's Kingbird looks like a match.Someone else said they are rare so maybe you are lucky in your visitors.We get a couple of kinds of rare for our area birds a couple times a year,always a welcomed treat.

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  17. Like Judy, I have a terrible time identifying birds as well, but they are such entertaining creatures. So glad Maria is embarking on her big year :-)

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