Category Archives: New River Birding and Nature Festival

I was going batty, now I’m going birding

The transition to life in Asheville has kept me going full tilt. The cats made it with ease: Sophie helped me drive by sitting in my lap and digging in her claws if I went over 79 mph or changed lanes too quickly and now they are both happy to be here watching the constant cluster of hummingbirds who appeared the moment I hung their feeder. We unpacked two cars worth of stuff, mostly wool, before I sprained my ankle running up and down the mountain ala “Sound of Music.”  I love it here and the view from every window is of native azaleas, dogwoods, daffodils, poison ivy…I’m thinking there’s a market for felted bars of Fels Naptha. I could call it Felt Naptha, yes?

The first week I rushed to finish some birdhouses for the Grove Park Inn Annual  Bird House Competition. First place went to a master wood carver and his bird house was absolutely fantastic. I was pleased with my entry other than one minor issue that arose the night before during assembly. I had done a series of four barn swallow nests and Rich and I went off in search of a suitable piece of barn siding on which to mount them. It was all completed and just before going to bed I went out to photograph my entry sitting on the dining room table. I was at first annoyed and then alarmed to see ants crawling about and it took less than two minutes to figure out that we had constructed the support base with a termite-infested 4 x 4. Midnight found me in the garage spraying the backside of my artwork with “Mountain Fresh Scent Raid” and gnashing my teeth as an entire colony of winged insects staggered out of a crack in the board. I was thinking that no matter what, Raid smells like Raid but when we delivered it the next day to the competition the woman at the desk exclaimed, “Beautiful! And it smells so nice!” Since then I’ve had a couple of recurring nightmares that the historic arts and crafts era Grove Park Inn is being consumed by termites and it’s all my fault.

(This was the first place winner. Well deserved, I think. I would like to live in this house!)

The next big project was to get some felting batts ready to market at Friends and Fiberworks and Asheville Homecrafts. I’m excited that these two great shops are going to be carrying my fibers. I’ve dropped off one big batch and another is being delivered today before I leave for a week to go birding. Rich and the cats will stay here in a house full of wool bunnies; that much drum carding makes a lot of tumblin’ tumblewool and there’s no time to clean before I head out.

(Do I still think of my Ann Arbor peeps? You betcha. Every day.)

Birding, you ask? Yes, I am one of those lucky ducks heading for New River, West Virginia for the Birding and Nature Festival. There I will tsay in a farmhouse with some of the best birding bloggers (The Flock) and go on daily birding hikes with some of the nation’s leading ornithologists and biologists. I’ll send a post, with photos of some bird I think you’ve never likely seen. The camera, binocs, knitting, iPad with iBird application downloaded, and rain suit are all packed. New waterproof hiking shoes have been broken in. Today is pack, oil change and plant all the herbs purchased yesterday at the Asheville Herb Festival.

If I posted more routinely you would see some interesting things here because most of my days on the mountain I encounter new and beautiful things and make great discoveries. Like last night in bed, when I went to fondle affectionately pat Rich goodnight and he squealed, “Don’t give me that poison ivy!” we had a eureka! moment and realized out is was that we are both getting it in exactly the same places, on the bases of our thumbs, near our wrists. This despite constant hand washing, wearing gloves and long sleeves and so forth. It’s those damn cats! They hang out under the deck where there is a lot of the stuff, walking around in it and rolling about and then they come in and nuzzle our wrists for attention and feed, especially as we work on the computers. Sophie, especially, is one to plop down and grab your hand at the wrist and start rubbing and treading. Arghhh. I never thought RoundUp would be in my life but lately I wouldn’t mind winning a enough to clear a football field.

Instead of photographing my poison ivy which looks pretty gross, I leave you this image (which some of you have seen on my Facebook page already.

We went into Asheville and these two were “doing it in the street” as my grandmother used to say (referring to hippies, not turkeys) and stopping traffic. We watched for about 3 minutes until someone honked and ruined our fun. But he was determined and chased her down the sidewalk.

I’ll put up bird photos and see you on the other side of a week of birds, nature, interesting and learned folks and a whole new adventure. Have a great week at your place.

Birds of a feather

(you talking about us?)
This is really embarrassing. No, no, not the part about not updating- that’s old news. No, the embarrassing thing is this: for all the time I spend with birds, feeding birds, handling birds, watching birds and teaching others about birds, I am afraid of birders. I am intimidated by them and I feel foolish around them. Seriously, birders terrify me. My stereotype of them is that they are a peculiarly obsessive, competitive, geeky type. They tend to be know-it-alls and in the race to lengthen their precious (and often fictitious) life lists, they’ll either hallucinate or outright fabricate the sighting of a Green Violetear or an Eared Quetzal. “Right there! It’s there, on the third branch from the left fork of that Quercus, between 2 and 3 o’clock! There! I don’t know why you don’t see it!”  all in the loud, excited and yet simultaneously hushed tones of golf announcers. And, to be honest, then I think, “you’re Quercus!” and make a plan of escape. It’s particularly scary that there are now so damned many of us them. Reports are that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 bird watchers in North America, all clomping about in meadow and wood with way too much expensive gear. In addition to making up stories about birds they haven’t really seen, birders like to argue about the best binoculars, the best camera equipment and the best bird guides. Peterson is obsolete, Sibley is yesterday’s news; the field guide du jour is The Crossley ID. It’s mostly written in code, which suits birders just fine.

So why is it so embarrassing that I embrace such a, shall we say, catty view of birders? It’s because I’ve invested considerable effort and self-promotion in joining this particular group of odd ducks. Not just a flock of birders, no, it’s THE FLOCK of birders. A collective of bird watchers with members the likes of  Julie Zickafoose, Murr Brewster, Laura Hardy and Susan Kailholz-Williams and my friend, Jane Blumenthal, aka Wren. This flock of birders heads off each year to the best birding convocations and migrations to be led by prominent ornithologists such as Rudy Gelis, Bill Thompson, the Hershbergers (imagine a marriage of professional birders!) and Jeffrey Gordon. The Flock spends a week doing all those birdy things and then they write about it until the next get together. For the first six months they post photos and reports about the wonder of it all and for the next six months they write about how desperate they are to get together to do it again. And, if you follow any of them in their blogs or on Facebook, soon all you want out of your remaining years is to be one of them. A member of The Flock.(friend, Cathy, took these photos on Wildlife Weekend when I was giving a little owl talk.)

Say hello to the newest member. Blind in one eye, I line up the edge of my binoculars against the bridge of my nose and look through one eyepiece. Slightly dyslexic, I’m usually looking at the other left tree branch. As I try to focus my camera shot I end up losing the whole tree, let alone the bird. I’m allergic to the sun. And the greatest aberration? Brace yourselves. I don’t carry a life list. It’s true. I have one but I no longer carry it or even keep it current. Oh, I have Audubon Society pins for 100, 200, 300, 400 birds. I gave a Nene some water from my bottle on the peak of Mt Haleakala and I really saw a Forked Tailed Canivet Emerald Hummingbird on Roatan. But somewhere along the way I lost interest in all that competition, in the paraphernalia, the gear, the strained neck at the end of the day and I decided I was just going to watch what comes my way. What flutters into my field of vision, narrow as it is. Now, when I want to look at birds, I wear my big sun hat, take my modestly good point and shoot camera, sans tripod and extra lens and my adequate not-too-heavy binoculars. I’m happy if I get to see a good-looking or interesting bird but I’m equally happy seeing snakes and lizards and wildflowers and fish- hey! that reminds me! I need to pack my fly rod!

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird . . . So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. Richard P. Feynman

If the physicist who pioneered quantum mechanics can get off the bird naming thing, then so can I. Ha!

Here’s the thing. As a member of The Flock I have a moral obligation to post blog updates about the next great birding adventure: The New River Birding and Nature Festival. This is coming up soon, the first week of May, in New River (naturally), West Virginia.

So. All kidding aside? I can barely wait for this trip. I am so anxious to shed my winter lethargy and be one with Spring I can’t contain myself. For 5 days I get to wander and hike this fantastically beautiful part of the country, around the gorge, along the river and on the front porch. I keep reading my daily trip descriptions; they have names like Kanawha Falls to Burnwood, Birding By Boat, Muddlety Strips and yes! Birding By Butt! (I believe that is the one that fits into my philosophy of letting the birds come to me.) I smile every time I think about meeting this new gaggle of geese who will be my bunkmates and as we exchange notes, phone numbers, suggested snack lists-well, I realize that I’m probably guilty of wildly stereotyping birders. I’ll definitely keep you posted on that, promise, cross my heart, with blurry photos of unidentifiable birds.

For now, just click and look at the photos and read all about it. You’ll want to go, too. I think you still can, you know. I think there are still a few spaces available. I mean, you can’t be a member of The Flock or anything- too late for that this year. That requires some maneuvering but who’s to say that if you come this year you might not graduate to The Flock by next year? Just be sure to have the Crossley ID visible in your pack at all times.

Here’s a little video I took today of a youngster I’ve been watching.