Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Great Carlisle Bird War

So let's just say that despite--deee-spite--the fact that I went to actual school to become an actual writer doing writer things--like, say, writing--I am the laziest writer I know.  Here is is the beginning of April, and I am just now adding the biggest running event in my life to my blog. It's known as The Great Carlisle Bird War.  Here I am back in--um--February--birding down in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  (I don't have any idea how many birds I saw that day.) 

First, The Back Story.

I got married when I was 25 years and six days old.  Eighteen years and three weeks later, I found myself stranded in a strange town and thought, you know, if he's not willing to give me grocery money, then maybe I should vamoose.  Easier said than done, for sure.  Devastated and suffering from what would be months upon months of chronic anxiety, I vacated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where my mother was living. 

I didn't want to live in Southern Mississippi, per se, and I certainly didn't want to do it in the way I did.  But here I was, and in the beginning (and the middle, even) there were days that I just couldn't pull myself together:  the shock had been too great, the reset almost too much to process.  

The back back story is that a wonderful man re-emerged in my life, someone I had gone out with almost twenty-five years previously.  Things progressed, and one weekend when I was up at his house I suggested that he watch The Big Year with Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. It's about a bird watching contest that is held every year by the American Birding Association, and boy, is it cutthroat competitive.  It's based on a seriously competitive year, 1997, where three guys (hence the three leads) vied for the top spot of America's best birder.  It works like this:

Spot as many species in North America as you possibly can.  
Have a metric ton of money to do so.
Give up all hope of having an actual life while you do so, cause it's hard to romance life with a $2,000 spotting scope constantly stuck up to your eye. 

It sounds dumb, but it's actually a Really Big Deal to spot the most species in North America.  You have everything from the Mexican border up, but no on Hawaii. You've got the Aleutians, and you should be satisfied with that.  From my understanding (and yes, feel free to correct me) there are 914 birds found in North America.  The record--according to the book the film is based on by Mark Obmascik--was 732 by a charismatic guy named Sandy Komito, a contractor out of New Jersey (See aforementioned Owen Wilson).  
After seeing the film, I get a phone call from The Man saying, "I got an idea."  He wants me, my mother, his brother (who looks spookily like Matt Damon) and himself to Big Year.  

Now I'm like, "So you have thirty years of birding, and Brian's got God Knows How Many, and mom's got at least twenty, but me, twenty minutes.  Sure." 

"What are you worried about?"  He says.  "You're on the coast."

Suddenly, it was like a whole layer of the world opened up for me. Birds were, I discovered, everywhere, and they presented not only a physical but intellectual challenge.  It gave me a great deal of comfort to distract myself with birding, and it still does.  

Still, I wasn't so sure about getting involved in a big year, even among the family because darn it, those two brothers and my mother collectively had about sixty years of birding on me. It could have been intimidating, but you know what?  Whatever. 

And, I am on the coast.  The Brothers Carlisle are inland 70 and 100 miles, respectively.  So I've got the drop, well, we've got the drop, meaning me and my mother, but that's a bit longer of a story. There are about 250 species that migrate through my neck of the woods, plus all those dadgum shorebirds.  (Guy at the gym this morning:  "Birding, huh?  Gulls are mean."  Me:  "Finding Nemo, man.")

So I proceed (with a pair of binocs he gave me) to bird.  I cruise around Barnes and Nobel looking for guides.  I smart up and get the Audobon app on my phone.  (Um, sorry, Green Mountain Digital, but I like Merlin better, but you know, only iPhone, and dudes, it's Cornell).  I start racking up the birds, despite seeing, "Unforutnately, Birds has stopped working" at least a half-dozen times on my phone every week. Still, worth every penny of $4.  It allows me to keep track of each species and has a very nifty sorting feature where you can choose from "Duck-like birds", "perching birds", etc., etc. 

ANYWAY--here's what you can see if you go birding here... herons perched in sunsets like this: 

SO MY MOTHER IS NUTS.  She won't appreciate me blogging this fact, but that be's the truth.  She is a family nurse practitioner and last year, sadly, she was widowed.  He was an awesome guy, and we miss him.  She's currently kept company by my teenage daughter who lives with her about a mile from the beach.  She's got a fine backyard and, um, the beach.  How many birds has she counted this year?

Zero.  Zeeeero.  She won't do it.  It's a lot of talk, including some real smack talk with the brother insomuch that she sent him this picture: 

She tortise, brother hare.

She said, "I've got 42 birds" or some such, and he said, "Her name is liar, for she is a liar."  To which she replied:  

Looking all innocent-like. It makes it hard being in a three-man race, so if you want to chastise her for her inability to write down bird names on a piece of paper, please do.  There were other people willing to take her place but nope.  "I'll do it!"

So anyway, there you have it.  I can blog a bit about what's occurred in between now and January, and it's all good... but as it stands (until this morning) I was in the lead at 84.  I'm tied with the brother and my man is catching up to me as well. I haven't seen him in about three weeks and we have a day trip planned on Friday to the National Mississippi Sand Hill Crane Wildlife Refuge where my guy--who has the quickest damn eyes in the freaking world (I drove with him over four days to Virginia. I would not be surprised if one day he pulls over, gets out, bends down, and comes back to the truck and says, "Roosevelt dime, 1954.") is going to hand my list to me on a plate with that cocky look he gets when he bests me--which he does quite a bit (or I wouldn't bother with him).

Meanwhile, I see that Green Mountain has updated their app.  Here is their selection on their website--they've expanded exponentially.  Before, they only had three apps available, now they even have selections such as "Central Park Birds" and "Rocky Mountain Nature" available.  

  I've downloaded the new app and will be checking it out when I go to bed tonight.  It has had its malfunctions, but it should be interesting to see the changes they've made.  If you use eBird, then you should give it a whir. 

So after a text this morning from the brother at 7 freaking 30 in the morning, it stands that we're all at about 84.  Stay tuned.