Recollection: Lost Among the Birds

Neil Haward LostAmong The Birds

It is dog agility weekend which means I have plenty of extra time on my hands.  That also means I can finally get a post out that I’ve had in the queue for a large part of this year.  It may be surprising to know that book reviews are one of the most time consuming topics when it comes to to my efforts here at Intrigued.  Photography posts are pretty straight forward – root through the massive image queue, find a set of shots my readers might find interesting, process them up and then do what I enjoy most, write about the experience.  Book reports (wow, that sounds so grade school ha), do not have the image work beyond one or two quick snaps with my camera phone, but what it lacks in processing, it more than makes up for in recollection time.  I spend a lot of capital on the takeaways, the concepts, quotes, thought provoking elements etc. that was gained from the investment in time with the author.  Today’s feature recollection was so full of takeaways I was hesitant to start on it until there was plenty of time to really do it justice – so there the book sat on my desk, right next to my computer taunting me each and every day for a little more than 11 months.  Today’s the day I address this visual guilt.

As an avid reader, you soon realize there are times when you turn the last page of book and immediately think to yourself “that time investment was only slightly better than watching paint dry.  Other times you might come away with a few good nuggets that make the investment worthwhile.  Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a tremendous impact, influence and/or entertainment value.  These time are easily identifiable by the shock of finality when you turn the last page.  Almost a feeling of sadness knowing the strong bond you just made with an author has come to an end.  There are only a few books that have led to this feeling.  The Lone Survivor is one that comes immediately to mind (and some of the horror stories I was insatiably reading in grade school resulting in a warning to my parents from a snowflake teacher, but I’ll let that go for now).  Now I can add another one to that distinguished list, Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year by Neil Hayward.  This novel was found at the Laguna Atascosa NWR gift shop.  I like to try and help out the various birding locations we visit especially when the visit results in new checks on the bird list – and Laguna has provided me a multitude of +1’s over the years.  Admittedly, before finding and reading this book I wasn’t aware of who Neil was.  The title looked interesting and who wouldn’t want to read about someone’s Big Year.  Figured it would be an interesting read for the long ride back at the close of vacation.  Little did I know at the time, how much I would look forward to turning these pages.  Every page was a mixture of new bird knowledge, a better understanding of what it takes to try and get the most bird species checked in a single year (called a big year for the non-birders out there), personal exploration and laugh out loud humor (note, that humor may be more in tune within birding circles).  A little background on Neil.  He is a graduate of Cambridge and Oxford with a  PhD in biology – the fruit fly nervous system to be exact.  From this foundation he spent 11 years in a successful startup before deciding he needed to find himself… or at least better understand the depression that was taking over his life.  A knowledgeable birder he decided to embark on a Big Year, although, I would characterize it as a Big Year found him rather than the other way around.  One thing led to another and next thing he knew he was earning frequent flyer miles at a record pace traveling all over North America in search of new species to check off.

It is on this adventure you learn about the depression that was taking root in his soul.  At first reluctant to admit it, he slowly comes to grip with it while spending time on the best psychology couch there is –  Mother Nature’s office. Through birding he learns to understand his mental state and reveals his thoughts to the reader as he progresses through the year, discovering himself almost as fast as he was finding new species.  Along with this mental journey, Neil takes you to his most memorable birding spots, many of which Linda an I have also been to making the read all the more personal – a weird combination of elation knowing you have experienced the same bird coupled with a swell of envy as he tracks down a rarity.  Through it all you begin to realize what a saint his new girlfriend (Gerri) must be to put up with his idiosyncrasies, unbelievable amount of time away from home and his inability to commit to the relationship in stark contrast to the commitment he had to those with feathers.  This book had such and impact on me that I immediately went to Amazon and had a copy sent to my brother Ron knowing he would enjoy it just as much as I did.  Maybe he will give his opinion of the read in the comments.  I do not want to ruin the book in case you are intrigued enough to pick it up yourself, but I will reveal he does get an incredible amount of birds -in fact he had more birds checked off in the first month than I have on my life list after years of birding.

In summary, if you are a birder and want to learn what it takes to compete at a Big Year level, then get this book.  If you are not a birder but want to have a better understanding of what drives these crazy bird people, then get this book.  If you want to read about the power Mother Nature can have on the human mind, then get this book.  If nothing else, you simply want an enjoyable read, escape from the new world order of polarizing politics and crave some laughter to your life, then by all means consider Neil’s work as just the thing.  Oh, almost forgot.  If you are a birder, you will want to check out the listing in the back which has the chronological order of every species he found and where.  Like me, you will probably find some places to add to your travel plans.

By the way, one of reasons this book caught my eye in the gift shop is that Neil had signed it!

Neil Haward Lost Among The Birds

Hit the jump to see my takeaways – note, there are some spoilers in there, so if you are considering picking up a copy for yourself, you might want to wait to read these until after you have had a chance to feel the remorse when you turn the last page.

Continue reading Recollection: Lost Among the Birds

Let’s Celebrate with Pie[d]

We are officially in December now and thus time to walk over to the big counter on the wall and reset the monthly post quota back to zero – by the way, where the hell did this year go!?! I have single digit days left at work to get this year’s work efforts wrapped up and set the preliminary plan for 2019 before the holiday starts … sigh feel like a race I’m never going to get ahead of. However, on the bright side, I can tell you where a large portion of the year went thanks to crossing off one of my annual goals tonight.

Goal Completed 1000 miles for 2018\

Anyone who follows either of my blogs know I spend my spare time bathed in sweat chasing down Father Time and running from the Reaper. During my Birding and Blogging talks this year I mentioned the reason I run (and lift) is so I can spend all day in the field hauling around big glass in hopes of taking pictures to display in my home gym to remind me why I work out – my circle of life. Always elated when I can check off a goal, let’s celebrate with some pie!

Pied-Billed Grebe found at Padre Bird Viewing and Nature Center, December 2017

Well, maybe not the pie you were thinking of. This here is the birder’s version. Actually, I took some liberties here – this is really a Pie[d]-Billed Grebe. If you live anywhere in the US or a large swath of Canada, you have ample chance to get one of this cute creatures in the tin. It is a rare outing when we do not come upon the Pied on one of our water excursions. You might have to keep your eyes open for reasons explained later, but they are probably there hanging out in small groups or more likely solitaire.

Hit the jump to see some cute picture of the Pied-Billed Grebe!

Continue reading Let’s Celebrate with Pie[d]

Totem Spirit

Greetings everyone. We recently made our way back from a week in Las Vegas which means the sleep counter for the month of November took a serious decrement. Not complaining, of course, seeing as how that was pretty much self-inflicted. From a birder’s perspective, Vegas is up there in the top 10 birding places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Actually, should clarify that a bit, the birding is primarily a combination of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area inside the Mojave Desert. We opted to rent some glass out there this time rather than hauling out the Beast. I wanted the prime Nikon 600 f/4 but the VR ended up being broken on that option, so settled for the 150-600 f5-6.3 Tamron. I am here to say, Tamaron glass is NOT Nikon glass. Still need to go through the images, but it was a fight the entire time. That glass is way to light to hand hold in the wind and extremely slow to focus compared to my rig making it impossible to nail any in-flight shots. Did manage to get at least one +1 and possibly a couple more. More to come on that front. For now, was totally shocked when I came upon this set of pictures in the queue.

Greater Roadrunner found outside Laguna Atascos National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

This is not the first time the Greater Roadrunner has appeared here at Intrigued, first appearing way back in May of 2013 (link here). That first encounter was at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve and took some effort to find. It also didn’t allow us to get too close it. Now this specimen was the Walmart greeter for Laguna Atascosa.National Wildlife Refuge. We were navigating the absolutely awful road (if you can call it that) that leads into that refuge when our little feathered friend popped out of the brushline.

Greater Roadrunner found outside Laguna Atascos National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about my favorite runner.

Continue reading Totem Spirit

White-Eyed Vireo

Greeting from the Winter Wonderland everyone. Was able to get a good 7 mile run in this morning as the sleet was turning to snow. As soon as I made it back to the house, it was pretty much a light snow that has managed to hang on for the last 9 hours… and by hanging on I mean stay light because now is it’s coming down hard for what they are expecting to be another 9 hours. I can’t remember the last time we had two good snows with a little less than a week before Thanksgiving. Also do not remember having to bundle up as much on my runs this early in November (couple of runs ago it was windchill of 13 – F for my international friends). In an attempt to bring a bit of warmth to my office, let’s head back to Texas and check out my latest addition to the ol’ bird list.

White-Eyed Vireo found at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, December 2017

Hit the jump to find out what bird this is … apologies for the remaining shots.

Continue reading White-Eyed Vireo

A Jay for a Long Day

Hello Everyone! There are times that you think you are never going to get through and then somehow everything comes together and then start believing you have everything under control… then life throws you a curveball and you are back to trying to get wood on a difficult pitch. That is how it has been here at LifeIntrigued over the last several months. The hectic agenda was finally smoothed only to have a loss in the family. With a heavy heart we laid my wife’s mother to rest today in a nice ceremony in her hometown. We will miss her, but she is in a better place now, free from the burdens that weighed her down in her later years.

In Memory, Dorothy Barton

(12/3/1927 – 11/5/2018)

 

It has been said the best way to move on from a bump in the road is to simply continue driving forward. Seems like sound advice to me, so in an attempt to move forward, thought I’d go ahead and put a post out on one of my favorite topics. On this rather dark day, I bring you one of the brightest birds the aviary world has to offer.

Green Jay captured at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas January 2018

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this stunning Jay!

Continue reading A Jay for a Long Day

Dead Eye Lincoln

I have used a specific quoted from a well-known photographer numerous times in this blog. It is a bit in jest because Linda and I have listened to many of his blog podcasts and even had the pleasure of meeting him person thanks to a speaking engagement with our local camera club. If you were into drinking games this would be a perfect situation where you get to choose what phrase they must down a shot to. Sometime during a Rick Salmon presentation he will say some variation of “one blurry picture is a mistake, a whole bunch of them is a style”. Drink up! In the past post, we met Mr. Softie. In this post you will also see Mr. Softie and well, by the third post on its way you are going to be thinking this is just my style hehehehe. To my defense, all three of the posts in question probably covered a total of 5-6 seconds. Incredibly relieved that enough characteristics made it to the sensor to be able to get a proper ID .. which means an official check on the list. There’s a lifetime of chances to get better pictures, but to be in the right place for the right second or two can make the difference of never getting the opportunity to make that mark. Wife just hollered out to stop making excuses so better man up and get to tonight’s triple F (featured feathered friend).

Lincoln's Sparrow found at Harlingen Thicket World Birding Center January 2018

Hit the jump to learn more about this highly secretive Sparrow!

Continue reading Dead Eye Lincoln

Swamp Thing

Thanks to the extra cycles in my schedule as of late, thought I would loop back into the spoils from the Texas Gulf Coast birding trips and see what’s left to tick that bird counter up. I’ve made it through most of the quality shots in preparation for the multiple talks I’ve given on the subject to local groups. I was shocked to still find a number of potential lifers in there. Sent some samples up to Ron who was able to confirm my initial IDs – score! Unfortunately, most of these encounters were momentary. I’d be intent on getting a target bird in the tin and then catch a brief glimpse of something moving in my periphery. Note to new birders – when you are away from the home base, if anything with feathers decides to crash your party – flip the shutter on it. If it turns out to be a common maybe you’ll get a better shot for your portfolio. You might just be surprised to find out its one that has been eluding you for years. Worse case, you tap that little key with the Del label on it and that moment in history never happened. I joke to myself that it was “Obelisked” in reference to the Egyptian structures that provided a historical accounting of the Pharaohs. Except that history was obliterated err deleted and a new manufactured history created in its place that put the new Pharaoh in better standing. Obscure, but I like to get some use out of all my non-core electives in college ha. Wow, drifted from the feature of tonight’s post.

Swamp Sparrow found at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Texas December 2017

As eluded to earlier, when this shot was taken I was in the midst of tracking a Sora (link here). That bird is a pain in the ass to get in the tin as it darts in and out of the reeds along the water banks. Just spotting them is task number one. From there you are trying to keep a focus on it as the glass bounces back and forth with every reed that comes between the two. Sometime in that adventure, this little brown jobber darted in for a quick check on meal options. Assuming it was just a common Sparrow, slid the barrel of the glass over, snapped a few for the record and then went back to being frustrated. It wasn’t until the review a few days ago that something triggered renewed interested. Actually that was the second trigger – the first was “Wow, Bri you need some photography lessons”. Basically bled through some foreground stalks. Honestly, lucky the glass didn’t start searching and completely ruin the encounter. This Sparrow might have only been there for less than five seconds, but it’s now an official check on my list.

Hit the jump to find out what this darkly colored bird is!

Continue reading Swamp Thing

Where’s the Hat and Boots?

Greetings everyone, welcome to November albeit a bit late to the month. I was sitting down after a night of traveling around the countryside assessing various Halloween haunts (picking up ideas for our annual haunted trail) and heard the clank of the blog counter resetting as the clock crested the witching hour. That sound is definitely more intimidating during the September and October months thanks to an extremely busy schedule – November is a different story – it is actually welcomed since It means I can re-dedicate myself to something I enjoy second to experiencing the event itself – that’s talking (err typing) about the experiences. A perspective that I believe most outdoor bloggers can relate to. The only downside right now is I used up all my pre-processed images to get me through the previous months. That can be easily overcome as in the case of today’s triple F (featured feathered friend).

Nashville Warbler found at Weslaco Valley Birding Center January 2018

I still have a tremendous amount of blog material from our trips down the Texas Gulf Coast. Took a run through the folder last night and thought this cute Warbler would be worthy of introducing to my readers. This particular specimen was found at the Valley Nature Birding Center in Weslaco, Texas. You may be familiar with this location already as it was the place that gave me the national bird of Costa Rico (link here), the Inca Dove (link here) and that darling of a Warbler the Black and White (link here) to name a few. The Birding Center is a neatly tucked away gem of a birding hotspot posing as a generic park in the middle of town – go through the visitor center and out the back gates and you find yourself standing in six acres of an elaborate forest ecosystem.

Nashville Warbler found at Weslaco Valley Birding Center January 2018

Hit the jump to find out what this new bird to my list is called! Continue reading Where’s the Hat and Boots?

A Better Castaway Companion

Did you hear that!?! If you just heard a huge sigh of relief loud enough to be heard from the Netherlands, that would be me successfully putting a cap on one of the busiest two months I have experienced in a looooong time. The Annual Halloween Cookout is officially in the books (all the decorations are officially dried out, packed and stowed away), the 4 scheduled Half Marathon medals are hanging on the wall, the new well is awaiting final health inspection and as of Wednesday night, my presentation to the local Peoria Camera Club was given. Whew, that blurb sure doesn’t sound as difficult as it was to get all those checked off the to-do list. All of those tasks had been outlined in previous posts, with the exception of the presentation. The president of the Camera Club (Julie) attended my presentation to the local Audubon Society Chapter earlier in the year (link here). After that talk she offered up the opportunity to come and speak to the camera club. Honored to be considered, I quickly accepted and began fretting about it almost immediately. At the Audubon speech, I was in a room full of better birders and likely better photographers. In the new setting I was among a room full of better photographers and likely better birders. Definitely more comfortable in the former being a self-learned photographer. When Julie reached out with the October date, my heart skipped a beat and immediately went to work revamping the Birding Texas Gulf Coast talk to focus on the photography aspects. Apprehension remained up until the point the lights went down and the slide show started. Ended up running out of time to get through all the bird detail (due to favoring camera setup, field philosophies etc), but the audience seemed to enjoy the talk and received a lot of good comments afterward. Also got to talk to a few of them later thanks to a chance decision afterward to catch a bite to eat at the same place. Again, extremely honored to have the chance to present my craft to them and to meet a wonderful group of similar enthusiasts. Huge appreciation to Julie for making all that happen.

While preparing for this speech, I noticed a picture was included of a bird I had not featured on the blog yet – and by definition, one that did not have the official check by it on the bird list. This seemed like the perfect time to remedy that!

Wilson's Warbler found at The Valley Nature Birding Center, Weslaco Texas January 1st, 2018

Hit the Jump to find out what this new addition is!

Continue reading A Better Castaway Companion

A Thrashing Surprise

Sorry, been awhile since getting some material out on the wild side of LifeIntrigued.  To my defense, I did put up a number of running recollection posts on my main blog this month.  Decided it was time to dust the cobwebs here.   Tonight, we feature another catch while on our Texas Gulf Coast Birding Trip back in December 2017 – on the 30th to be exact so just a few days from the current year. This makes this an extremely fresh post based on my normal wildlife recollections. Recently I was offered the opportunity to speak at our local camera club. Their president saw my speech to the local Audubon Society and thought the camera club would enjoy it as well – although likely without the crickets.  This has added to the overall whirlwind of activities that has been consuming me over the last two months (if you have been reading my posts, you are well aware of how I’ve been struggling to get posts out). With Saturday’s completion of the season’s last scheduled half marathon trail run (yeah) this speech is the final task on my to-do list ahead of my favorite day … Halloween. This post allows me to pad my bird count by an extra tick before then – yep, this is another new bird!

Long-Billed Thrasher found at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, December 2017

Hit the jump to find out what this mystery species is!

Continue reading A Thrashing Surprise