Friday, September 25, 2015

Not Just about the Birds

            Several years ago birding guru Kenn Kaufman issued a challenge: Inspire a new birder and receive a free copy of one of his field guides. He paid in advance. We took The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.
            We thought we would inspire our granddaughter, Reilly, a girl of unusual sensitivity and intelligence. But unfortunately, Reilly was entering her teenage years, filled with emotional swings and a desire for independence. She was not inspired, but we kept the book.
            A year later we met Miguel, a youngster who was completing his Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering at the University of Florida. Kim and I were photographing birds at Paynes Prairie State Park. Miguel asked Kim for help in identifying some birds (he was smart enough to know not to ask me), they got to talking about birds and photography, and eventually they struck up a deal: She would help him with the birds, and he would help her with photography, which came to include setting up Lightroom and Photoshop on her computer.
            As it turned out, this was not an even trade of time, so Kim offered to pay Miguel. He refused. She offered to pay him with home made cookies. He accepted. Kim gave him our Kaufman book. And I agreed to help him with aeronautical engineering.
            We also paid Miguel by introducing him to several of our vices. He and his fiancée Megan, now his wife, were not coffee drinkers before we met them. They now own two systems for making coffee (we get blind taste comparisons when we visit) along with a grinder and a gizmo for foaming milk. We introduced them to wine, and while Megan has stopped during her pregnancy, we are fairly certain she will resume once Miguel tells her it is safe. We tried to introduce them to Irish whiskey, but when we visited them in Albuquerque a year after buying them a bottle of Jamison, we found that we had to finish it ourselves. Antiques might be another challenge. Miguel is game, but Megan gives him what I recognize from Kim as “the look” when he suggests decorating their home with glass insulators or a collection of antique ice cream makers.
            Birding. This essay is about birding. Miguel now has 254 on his life list. He’s a meticulous photographer who combines a scientist’s insistence on getting it right, his engineering precision, an artist’s eye, and the patience in the field (that he will need when the baby is born). His photographs, properly labeled, are a beautiful proof of the benefits of our inspiring him to birding.

Miguel and Kim in Action
            Kim did inspire Miguel. He was already birding, and Kim, with her eye for detail, helped him to see. Kim and Miguel now assist each other with identifications, mainly through email, and Megan has been known to pick up a camera when not preoccupied with work, school and pregnancy. But the real inspiration was to our friendship through birding and bird photography. There is, however, a downside. On the last day of our last visit to Albuquerque we had an opportunity to visit Sandia Mountain for some late afternoon birding. We instead chose to open a bottle of wine to toast our friendship.

            So, Kenn, thanks for the book. Birding is not just about the birds.

Megan Helping Miguel

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