Thursday, November 15, 2012

Snipe Hunting. Really.

Photo by Alfred Yan
used with permission

A brief sound burst,
A flash of wings,
An arc of flight.
“Ruby Crowned Kinglet!” the voices sound in unison. My brain says, “bird.” We walk a few more steps…to the place where the elusive Wilson’s Snipe lingers. The Snipe, camouflaged and cautious, remains motionless until we are within arm’s distance, then it flushes and banks past us to another settling pond.

It took our guide two years to discover the habits and location of the Wilson’s Snipe in Hahamongna Park, but only twenty minutes to reveal this shy bird to us, so that we could experience its form, flight and habitat.

Monday was top-flight. Walking side-by-side with an experienced guide, I absorbed the ways of bird-watching:
            -Looking became conscious observation.
                        Skyward for Swifts in motion.
                        Left- to- right for movement in the leaves, and down for ground birds.
            -Hearing became focused sound analysis:
                        “Did you hear that sound?”
                        “You mean like someone running a butter knife over a saw blade?”
                        “Yup. That’s an Anna’s Hummingbird.”
            -Walking – the act of touching the ground – became a lesson in risk analysis:
                        How long can I watch the sky before path and feet are no longer in sync?

But, what really sticks with me is the notion that experts - through diligence and the practice of their craft – have worked out shortcuts for us:.
            -knowing where the Snipes hide
            -describing the precise features that differentiate 2 similar birds
            -using patterns of behavior to increase chances of spotting a particular bird.

While my companions' amiable chatter sounds to me like the barista’s call-outs for coffee orders, it really represents the distillation of hours of practice. Our guide shares willingly and generously – making sure that we all see the Snipe, and the Ruby Crowned Kinglet and 27 other different types of birds. Experts convey enthusiasm along with an obvious delight in the subject matter and delivery. That could be why they are revered: as their students, we are positively affected by their enthusiasm and passion. Whether we hope to become experts ourselves, or merely appreciate the skill, our interest level is increased. We also share genuine moments of happiness; the kind of elation that comes from the pure joy of discovery and the satisfaction of fitting new information into our own brain-grid.

There are lots of experts. Finding a local expert made me appreciate the knowledge base of our area, and the richness of our natural resources. Thank you, Darren, our expert guide. And, thank you Joe, for suggesting a brilliant way to spend the morning.

-Mrs. Eldridge

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