Saturday, January 31, 2009

Birding and the Superbowl

Everything significant has its pinnacle moments.

February 1st 2009 marks the beginning of a new month. For us here in the frigid Great Lakes regions, it is a mere 24 hours before a furry mid size mammal with prominent front teeth, gleefully (if not sleepily) informs us that our favorite season of the year has just gone into triple overtime. However, February 1st this year has the added distinction of being the end of something significant: the NFL Football season. It has also been selected as the day when the biggest, grandest, most watched sporting event of the season is played to determine the best of the best: The Superbowl (XLIII). This day will crown professionals of one participating team as “champions.” Men (only…and you’ll see my point in a few paragraphs) whom we have rooted for, paid to see, lived vicariously through, and built into legends, can be crowned supreme on this day of days. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll have my boob tube dialed in just as eagerly as the next guy to witness the spectacle (if not the commercials) that this game has become. What I’d like to juxtapose here in my little bloggy-world (and who really knows if anyone at all reads the damn thing) is an alternative universe where the World Series of Birding gets the same accolades (and world-wide appeal) as the “big” games.

The WSB as it is often referred to is not held at the “end” of any season, month, of time period that brings anything to its conclusion. Rather it is conveniently scheduled to coincide with one of the two greatest periods in a birding year; spring migration. (The other being fall migration, but then again, you knew that one) It’s name suggests a connection with baseball, borrowing the “World Series” part from the venerable Grand Old Game, but other that an obtuse reference to “fly” balls, there is no direct link I assure you. This year’s 26th annual (and that’s “XXVI” for you roman numeral enthusiasts) WSB will be held May 9th in Cape May New Jersey, in that North American Mecca of all things avian.

To be allowed to enter the WSB competition, wanna-be entrants’ and teams must simply fill out a registration form HERE and pay the fees. Follow the rules and anyone (any team) could be a winner. I have yet to enter, but I know I will someday…rubbing elbows with birding’s finest and most famous as I schlep along with my fellow rookies, hoping for a crumb of knowledge, and a life bird or two.

Here is a chance for the little guy (and little “gal” thank you very much) to participate in an event for all of us schmucks to aspire to. Gender doesn’t factor in, as well as race, creed, color, physical deformities, blindness, politics, or financial standing. Even age isn’t a factor (unless you consider that the older you get, the better you may actually become…shhhhh, you see it’s all about “experience” here) this is a “sport” for everyone. You don’t have to be tall, muscular, handsome, graceful, or physically gifted. Birding is one of the few sports where a favorite cocktail could even be enjoyed while participating. Imagine that one on the gridiron! (Disclaimer…the WSB does not necessarily endorse the consumption of alcoholic-laced or any other beverages for that matter, while in competition…blah, blah, blah…but you get my point here I hope) Here my friends is a sport to be enjoyed from cradle to grave with bad knees and all, and not just when you are in your prime, (or before you go to free agency, whichever comes first) plus no mouth guard is required!

I know you all want to read about the Stud’s Superbowl prediction, don’t you? Well, my method for establishing the winner of the game was very scientific; I invited a representative from each team to my backyard feeder for an interview. Since only the Cardinals accepted my offer and sent their captain, they will win the game…simple.

The final score will be: (Northern) Cardinals 21 – Steelers 17…psssst…a little birdy told me.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Birds of a feather…

Why do they do it? The better question may be; why do WE?

It’s been theorized for countless years that birds that do indeed “flock” together, do so mainly for safety reasons. (The old “safety in numbers” adage) Some folks opine that the “smaller” birds flock to lend their sheer numbers against a common foe, thereby overpowering the larger interloper with quantity. Life-saving confusion is often the byproduct of instantaneous mass dispersal from the intended landing zone of a hungry predator, and multiple “targets” befuddle a would-be diner when scattered about its table in their panicked evasion attempts. Some birds “huddle” together as a method for survival in the frigid arctic weather, and raise their young en masse to increase survivability. Flocks of birds often are able to locate necessary foraging grounds while working as a cohesive unit. Cooperation amongst species seems to benefit those who see the value in connectedness. Often, similar species will link their proximity for a time too. Some may have “missed the first class bus” of migration and get stuck in coach with the less fortunate. Whatever the reasons, it seems to work for them.

Some even do it (“flock” that is…what did you think I was going to write?) while in flight. Who hasn’t seen Canada Geese overhead in their signature “V” formation? Did you ever ask yourself exactly why, or audibly notice that one side (of a flying goose “V” pattern) is always longer, only to be treated to the standard (Hell-ooo?) retort, “there are more geese on that particular side.” Well, no more…remember, it’s all in the aerodynamics, and leave it at that. If you are stubborn and want more info on this subject, click HERE as “why reinvent the wheel?” Furthermore, many other birds will fly in groups too, such as pelicans, cormorants, ducks, and (my favorite) starlings and the geese get all the attention. So just enjoy the spectacle and natural organization they provide and don’t stand directly beneath large flocks of birds looking up with your mouth open in wonder…just a tip there.

If you too like to watch starlings perform their unique amorphous shape-dancing, the video links below should provide you with many enjoyable minutes of stunning inexplicable wonder. (The first video is quite precious as the family behind the camera pontificates as they film the starling’s attempts at self-organization. Pssst…what they don’t know (God bless ‘em) is that the starlings are flocking for an evening’s roost and have chosen an inappropriately sized shrubbery for their immense numbers…but I applaud their ponderings, but not their undeserved slang moniker, based upon the Latin name of the species. Remember, I always root for the underdogs…)

Starlings (0)
Starlings (1)
Starlings (2)
Starlings (3)
Starlings (4)
Starlings (5)

Now that we have explored the avian world a bit and have considered some of the reasons that these animals hang together, let’s peek at ourselves for a moment and attempt to find similarities shall we? I was walking home from a corner store the other morning, fighting the sub-zero cold that had my city in its grip and reflecting on the conversation I had just participated in, when it hit me; commonness! That was it by Jove…that was the “glue” that humans need to “flock” just like birds often do. (Common interests, common pain, common foes, common heroes, common happiness, common whatever.) For the purposes of this blog I will focus on the “common foe” factor: extreme temperature, being one of the strongest. What else brings complete strangers into conversation faster than sharing misery? Small “flocks” of humans quickly develop around similar topics of discussion…think about your office “water-cooler” and the buzz that continues to draw in others, seductively inviting their own contribution to the commonness. Additionally, why do fans of sports teams rally around each other at game time, in strange drinking establishments, with only the hope that the “other” competing team will do poorly? What makes folks instant friends after discovering that cancer is ravaging each other’s loved one? We as a species want to “flock” with common others…we want to have our opinions validated by others, we want to be with like-minded others and we seem to seek out places, situations, discussions, forums, etc. where we are a “part” of something larger than ourselves.

It just might be that while in (our version of the “V”) with a “common” group of fellow people, we find the migration easier, the traveling more enjoyable, the food tastier, and the “warmth” more inviting. Why would common things bring us together in groups and shapes of varying sizes

Who really knows for sure...(Hell-ooo?) there just may be more humans on that particular side.