• Bill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 2-04-22 Birdwatching with a Childs Eye

In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” ― Robert Lynd



I guess I have always been fascinated by things that fly. As a kid, learning about what makes flight possible and the history of flight fascinated me. Things like Bernoulli's Principle of fluid dynamics, which also applies to air as it creates high pressure under the flight surface. I read a lot, and I devoured stuff about planes and birds and at the time, the space program. I recall watching Apollo 17 on a grainy black and white TV in the auditorium of Rosemont Elementary School in December 1972. It was the last time a human set foot on the moon. Flying above and beyond the earth is such an amazing thing for us beings formed as biped ground bound creatures.


Looking back in life, one of the very best things about being a kid was seeing so many facets of the world for the first time. The sheer joy of experiencing a new thing and understanding how it fit into my then developing understanding of the world. I look at people older than I, and it seems that the ones who remain the most vital and passionate about life seem to be able to sustain seeing the world with child’s eye even after many decades of life. This article in HuffPost by Lisa Rosas notes that kids play more, and in so doing stay in the present. As adults we focus on what needs to get done and focus on what we know, not that which is new. Kids do not have to work at this, they are wired for taking in all that there is and then forming a schema of their world. That is the power kids have we risk losing as we age. We can get crusty and jaded over time. It does not fit us well. It is not what I want for me and my remaining days here.


I am not sure when my parents first took me to a place called Hawk Mountain, but I was very young, probably in grade school. It is about an hour’s drive from where I grew up, along the Blue Ridge Mountains. They stretch hundreds of miles across the Eastern United States. One of the special things about this ridge is it acts like a migratory bird autobahn. Winds blowing across the mountain create lift above it. Birds can catch a free ride for hundreds of miles. What makes Hawk Mountain special is that it juts out a bit from this ridge. It makes them easier to see as they change lanes on the migration freeway. Trips here from late summer into early winter can show an observer the vast sea of life above us and how it uses this natural highway to migrate with the seasons. The rhythms of life itself.


It sparked an interest in birdwatching. Looking back, Julie bought me my first pair of 10X50s as a birthday present when I told her I wanted to do some birdwatching. Around the same time, I took some ornithology courses as part of my perpetual part time college education as a student at Cedar Crest College. Around then, I found that spending time in the field with a set of lenses in my hands quiets down my brain. Mine tends to chatter a lot. One has to stop everything else and simply observe with all of one’s energies to watch birds. For me, it works better than meditation or mindfulness. Birding helps me get back to that child state of wonder.


The thing about birds is that they are pretty much everywhere, they just keep moving around! You never know what you might see. All one has to do to see it is to be present and observe. Even ones you have seen, you might catch doing something you have never observed before. One time, Julie and I were down in Cape May in a marsh. We were talking about Peregrine Falcons, the fastest animal on the planet. I was telling her that they were like jet fighters of the animal world. As I was speaking, as if on cue, one strafed the marsh at high speed, scattering all the avian life. The place burst into activity the moment he rolled over the tree line. Moments like that are actually all around us, but unless we focus, we miss them. I have a life list of around 400 species, I like adding to it, but moments like that one with an air ace like the Peregrine is what makes time in the field worthy for me. Not my total number, but the experience of observing.


Recently, I got to spend a morning with my friend Víctor Feliciano of Anativa Tours in Puerto Rico.

The first time we met a few years back, we got stuck in a gale inside a stone tower on top of a tall peak in El Yunque Rainforest. The wind driven rain was flowing up the mountain! This time we were on a mountain range South of San Juan. He showed me many new birds, including the Venezuelan troupial. One I had really hoped to see. Roma, a local pup joined us in search of birds, we were a quite a trio! One of the things I love most about birdwatching is that I run into other bird nerds. It is actually a pretty good tribe of people overall, in my experience. They have the eyes of children, even in their twilight years. Something to aspire to is to see things in life each time as if it is the first, and that each experience is amazing.


Grateful for a way to get out of my own head and be one with the pulse of the living world that surrounds us. Grateful for the ability to still see the world as new and wonderous and not get jaded by the old and predictable. Grateful to have met a fellow bird nerd and make a friend like Victor. Grateful for eyes that can still see how amazing our world really is on some days!


What are you grateful for today?

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