Michigan Audubon set up a contest where people were asked to write about their spark bird, “a term used by the birding community for the bird that hooks someone into their passion for birding.” I worked with Kim on her entry, only to learn that we had let our membership lapse, and the piece we had written has twice as long as was allowed. So, we are posting it here:
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My Spark Bird
I’ve always loved birds, ever since my father used to walk with me in his woods in the Upper Peninsula. But my spark bird, years later, was a Spotted Sandpiper, which I saw at the Saline Fisheries Research Station, just south of Saline, where I had permission to photograph with my new digital camera.
Using a camera helped me learn to see. Peering through a viewfinder isolated and framed the individual bird, a Spotted Sandpiper, that was posing for me.
What I realized is that the birds will often pose for me, if I am patient and quiet, and use my eyes, and really look. I go to a favorite place, sometimes a place I discovered, sometimes a place my birding buddies have told me about, and I wait for a bird to find me and pose, as this Spotted Sandpiper did. It was not walking on the beach, where I’d seen them before, but posed here on a milkweed plant.
This bird, framed in my viewfinder and then in the photo itself, fueled my “Look at what I see!” excitement. I realized that the art of birding is, first, for me, the art of seeing. It starts, of course, with curiosity, which leads to looking, and then seeing. Seeing, fueled by delight, sparked my asking: What is it doing here? What is it eating? How does it fit into the environment? Others, I know, are sparked by the sounds of birds, but for me it’s mainly visual. Whatever the spark, once you get caught, the passion never ends.
Learning to see, as happened with my Spotted Sandpiper, sparked my passion for birds, as well as my passion for butterflies and, recently, mushrooms. Birds, like much in nature, are posing for us all the time, if only we stop and open our eyes.
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Kim has been teaching me to see – or trying to. I’m not yet great at seeing what needs to be done around the house and yard, but I’m doing better with birds, butterflies and mushrooms. Not like Kim – there is nobody like Kim – but better than I was.
Some people have the gift. Genne´ can go to a beach and find shark’s teeth (Florida), or Petoskey stones (here in Northern Michigan), or shells, geodes, or heart-shaped stones (anywhere). She knows how to see, and, like her mother, she combines this gift with determination and commitment. They are my Spark Birds.