Sunday, February 16, 2014

Birding: Bits and Pieces

There was neither method nor madness to this weekend's birding nor this post. With few wintering shorebirds or gulls at which to gaze and limited sparrow access in the central Arizona area, winter birding can be slim pickings once one's gullet is full of the admittedly beautiful winterfowl. Just ask this annoyingly plumaged Red-tail (annoying in that it made me initially hope it was something more).  

As things slow down in winter (and, since it's been in the 80s lately, I use that term loosely), one is forced to confront the troublesome questions of life and birding, questions that can be ignored in spring when the Tanagers arrive and the Warblers start to move, when colorful distractions abound. In the mean time, the universe seems to abandon its usual insouciance and bombard one with just enough concerns to create real difficulties, difficulties and inquiries that are persistent, but never too great as to allow one the eminent, unavoidable, and more relaxing option of good-conscience giving up.
Why is gas so expensive? Why are cars so finicky and prone to breaking? Why do mechanics charge as much as doctors? Why won't doctors also fix my car? Why do we insist that children wear seat belts, unless we put 60 of them all crammed in together on a school bus? 

These are pressing questions for the parsimonious birder, but much less so for a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow who does not yet know the weight of the crown of adulthood. For the young Sparrow, life does not much extend beyond the next seedy clump of grass. Lucky bastard...

Black Phoebes are perhaps more contemplative, or at least that anthropomorphism comes across more so from their perching habits. Even their relatively deep thoughts, probing though they are on these chilly winter mornings when there isn't much else to stimulate, must be interrupted by the the occurrence of nearby damsel flies. What is the Formal Cause of the desire to eat flies? What is the Final Cause? The Black Phoebe is, perhaps, closer to answering these questions of life and motivation than White-crowns, and maybe even (insectivorous) people, but probably not all the way there.

Lofty perching birds, like Say's Phoebes, may thusly entertain likewise thoughts, although their more limited forms of communication may indicate otherwise. Still, they're stately birds.

This Vermillion Flycatcher was too young to think of such things. And let's face it, when he's an adult he'll be like a ferrari among oldsmobiles, so he won't be bothered with questions of essence of existential determinism. He'll be way too busy being gorgeous and picking up/making chicks.

If any species of bird has big answers to big questions, has erudition oozing from its talons, it's got to be an Owl. But even such seemingly eternal and omniscient creatures cannot exist freely of their corporal and temporal needs. In fact, they thrive because they tend to them very well and they do not suffer any intolerable lightness to their being. Case in point, this happy, smug-looking fellow is clearly contemplating such things as evisceration if I were but a bit smaller.

Nothing puts all the other nagging and niggling questions to rest like a flight-or-fight response. Look at those talons, just sneaking out from under his belly.

This, this is called a "murder face." I never knew what high school sports coaches were talking about until now.