Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where the Birds Is

Art of Bird Finding, The: Before You ID Them, You Have to See Them
The Art of Bird Finding by Pete Dunne

"Whether you know it or not," writes Pete Dunne in his new book, The Art of Bird Finding, "you are a bird-finding machine.  Under the shell of your modern veneer, stripped down to raw sensory receptors, Mr. and Mrs. Homo Sapiens are genetically to pick up the clues that say:  LOOK!  LOOK!  BIRD HERE."

That's a comforting thought on frustrating days when I can barely make out any of the tiny songbirds flitting about my yard.  Much less identify the birds I can hear but never quite locate at the park.  Most of us think of ourselves as bird-watchers, although more often the goal seems to be bird identification.  But whatever we're looking for (pun intended) the first step is seeing the birds in the first place.  And Dunne's wonderfully succinct new guide is devoted to helping us do just that.

As a birder, I probably rely too much on my camera.  I'm not fond of binoculars -- mostly because I've never learned to use them effectively, and Dunne has some helpful hints here -- but I found that his discussion of the pros and cons of binoculars applied equally well to how I use the camera. 

Think of the advantages that are diminished or nullified when you bring your binoculars up to your eyes.  Right off the bat, your view of the world is reduced by about ninety-five percent.  Good binoculars offer a field of view of about eight degrees of arc.  Your eyes, with birder-enhanced peripheral vision, give you between 100 and 180 degrees of arc.  You bring binoculars to your eyes, you've just thrown away your greatest bird-finding advantage -- your ability to perceive the whole world in front of you.

I know I've found this to be true of my camera.  In fact, I've found that even though my distance vision is diminished without glasses, standing on my deck bare-eyed I am able to watch the entire yard, watch for the slightest motion or movement.  For me, it is these moments of stillness and receptivity that are among the most rewarding parts of birding. 

Pete Dunne is one of the most prolific and talented bird writers around -- his books include Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, The Feather Quest, and the wonderful collection of essay/stories about raptors The Wind Masters.  The Art of Birding shows all his usual strengths.  For almost anyone, at any level, this book is a valuable trip back to the very beginnings of bird watching, a refresher course on what and where to look, and a guide to shifting our perspective. 

Yogi Bera once said that the secret to baseball was just to "hit it where they ain't".  The secret of birding then might be described as "look where they is".  And Pete Dunne will show us how.

(Books and Beast readers might also want to check out the latest post at Birdland West -- "A Flock of New Books for Birders" featuring the best of recent books on birdwatching, gardening and related topics.)

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