Monday, November 5, 2012

Thus Began the Old Man's New Hobby

Birds fascinated me as a child growing up in Lexington, Kentucky. I was intrigued by their variations in size, shape, color, behavior, song, and preferred habitat. I enjoyed drawing pictures of birds and I thought it would be really cool to fly like a bird. The world was a happy place when I woke up to the songs of Cardinals, Mockingbirds, and Robins during summer breaks from school. My attention was drawn to other things as I grew older and took on new responsibilities. I spent 18 months as a missionary in northern Japan, married my wife in Los Angeles, graduated from college, and then raised three wonderful children in Utah.

My childhood fascination with birds was rekindled one summer night in 2009 while my wife and I were out on one of our weekly date nights. We browsed through our local Barnes and Noble Bookstore while waiting  for our turn to be seated at a restaurant. I picked up, thumbed through, and purchased my very first field guide to birds, The National Wildlife Federation's Field Guide to Birds of North American. A few days later my married daughter visited our home and noticed my new field guide and asked about it. We looked at some of the photos and talked about some of our favorite birds. About a month later my daughter gave me a very inexpensive pair of 10x20 binoculars for my birthday.
Red-tailed Hawk Lehi, Utah

I used the binoculars a few times during lunch breaks to observe hawks hunting in some large fields near my place of  work. For the first time in my life I actually tuned in and watched Red-tailed Hawks soar and hunt. There were lots of small "tweety" birds around me in the fields, but I had not yet learned to appreciate them.  I was like most people and needed a large bird of prey to capture my attention.

One day as I was observing the same hawks in the same field a very large bird that I had never noticed before came floating over my head and down into a small creek surrounded by cattails.  It was as if a large aircraft had just flown in for a landing. I remember thinking, "Holy cow! What the heck was that?" I made some mental notes along the lines of "large bird, black and blue wings, strange neck," etc. I looked up the bird in my field guide and discovered that it was a Great Blue Heron.  Until that point I thought a bird like that would only be found near an ocean.  I was beginning to realize that the world of birds had much more to offer than ever expected.
Great Blue Heron
A few weeks later I took my binoculars with me as I went for an early morning walk along a canal near our home. I heard a strange noise that I described at the time as the sound of a mammal in pain coming from a large thicket. I walked with great curiosity toward the odd sound and beheld something I will never forget, a  very uniquely adorned bird. I went home and drew a poor picture of the bird from my recollection. I then looked it up in my field guide and discovered that Utah has Spotted Towhees. Those deep red eyes blazing from a jet black hood, the pure white belly, and those rufous sides will be forever burned into my memory.
Spotted Towhee at Warm Springs WMA near Santaquin, Utah

I was suddenly hooked not only on the birds of prey but also on what I once considered boring little "tweety" birds. I had to find out what other birds I had been missing over all my years on this amazing planet and I wanted to be able to study them in more depth. I was intrigued by their diversity. Six months later I was armed with a Nikon D5000 digital SLR camera with a 70-300mm f4.5/5.6 kit lens. I have since upgraded to the AF-S 300mm f4 lens and occasionally add a 1.4x teleconverter, but I am looking forward to the day when I can upgrade my camera body and lenses so they match the level of my passion for capturing beautiful and inspiring images.

I've spent over 25 years working as a supply chain, operations, and customer care management professional and I still have "a few" years left to work so birding and bird photography will remain only hobbies for now.

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