Sunday, November 4, 2012

My "Spark" Bird

I had recently read the book about Phoebe Snetsinger's addiction to birding called Lifelist.  It was an interesting read full of new vocab.  So I wrote down the new words that birders use out in the field.  I found it a fascinating read.  While it wasn't complex or full of deep revelations, it did make me think about my own beginnings.  And the word "Spark bird" was used.  I think I thought about this for 2 weeks.  What was my "spark bird"?  How did this crazy addicting photography challenge happen?  Instead of visiting every Spanish speaking country, which is still my goal, I found myself targeting places that have interesting birds and critters to capture on camera.  
RIP Phoebe Snetsinger
A very funny man by the name of Ivan in Panama told me that I was a birder whether I admitted it or not. And that I was going to become one whether I liked it or not.  I thought he was crazy.  A birder?  NO WAY! Those people were weird and have addictive personalities. Detective work. ID'ing. Research. All things I love to do. Um....yeah:)
Ivan in the blue shirt at his B & B in Gamboa and me the giant with  the Spanish crew.
This past year I have stayed close to home because there is much work to do at El Presidio PLUS I had a limited budget etc.  And that was okay because I realized I had a lot of work to do here in Arizona before attempting to take it elsewhere. 
In a lot of the photography, you may notice that I like birds in motion.  Whether it be a Kingbird going after a bug, a Vermilion Flycatcher with a dragonfly in its beak, a gull dipping into the water, etc.  Those are the shots I'm working on everytime I go out into the field. I just don't want to be that birder who crosses that line to get a shot of a tiger only to find himself taking pics of his final moments. 
Lance-Tailed Manakin- My "Spark B ird"
After much thought about my "Spark bird", I realized it wasn't a Scarlet Macaw or a Crimson-backed was the Lance Tailed Manakin on Coiba Island.   I remember sweating to get those shots of this blue gem on the branches.  There were several flying around me and I thought, these are the most beautiful birds I've ever seen in my life.  And I love owls!  But they are in a different category....beyond birds:)  I'd call them Gods.  I also wondered if "Mourning Doves" were a spark bird for several birders.  I'd love to meet them:) But the simple truth is that all birds are cool.  It just took this bird to get me hooked.
Sandwich Terns-I'm not sure I'd like to eat them
And then, it would roller coaster into everything else.....a better camera, crazy adventures, finding plants that would attract the birds to the gardens here, meeting awesome people, setting up bird feeders.....and oh yeah....that life list:)  The latest craze for me has been my work on flycatchers and Terns!  Who calls a bird the "Sandwich Tern?"    Putting a sacred thing like sandwich with a bird is just wrong. 
As I review my work, I realize how much stronger my observation skills have gotten but thanks to EBIRD and Kathie, I realize I have to do a better job on counting and bringing that notebook along during my treks.  I had been going through my photo albums to help me ID the birds and I realized that I had seen so many birds that I didn't document.  Thanks to EBIRD I've spent many hours recording info.  In fact, I spent 2 hours on one bird outing to get the details right!  But going back on the albums revealed something more........I could ID the birds easily.  And the ones I couldn't ID then are now possible!  If it hadn't been for that "Spark bird" on Coiba island, I wonder if I'd even have a thistle seed feeder now in our gardens here at El Presidio:)  What's your "Spark bird?" And if you're not a birder, do you have a "Spark Plant", "Mammal"?  I know this blog focuses a lot on the critters but I truly do love plants:)  And I'll be updating soon.  I've been working on lots of things.....and updates will be coming:)


Spark Bird=The bird species that initially stimulates an interest in more serious bird watching or birding. Spark birds vary for every birder and might include a unique or rare bird sighting, a favorite and familiar bird species or a bird seen when introduced to the hobby by an experienced birder. For many birders, spark birds are unknown species that lead to a curiosity about identification, and after successfully identified, the beginning birder is curious to learn more about both familiar and unfamiliar species as they discover the diversity of birds.


  1. OK, I'm not obsessed about birds, but.... I do have feeders out like to take blurry photos of birds, well not the blurry part. Usually get the bird book out to ID... Hmmm.... my "Spark bird" would be the osprey in WA state, decades ago, the sign of spring. Maybe I'm a slow birder.

  2. Nice pictures and the text with it.

  3. I like the colors of these wonderful birds,
    it must be great to take pictures there.

    greetings and i wish you a lovely sunday, Joop

  4. Another great post Chris with some wonderful photos :) My grandparents who lived in the country sparked off my interest in natural history when I was a child. They taught me so much about birds, mammals and wild flowers.

    So there wasn't really a "spark" bird as such but the one bird that really fascinated me in The Observers Book of Birds was the Great Grey Shrike or "Butcher bird" so-called because it impales its prey (insects and lizards) on thorns. It was the one bird I wanted to see - sadly I still haven't seen this species but hopefully one day......

    1. We have butcher birds, but ours are the fiscal shrike. Very elegantly dressed, and with a vicious hooked beak.

  5. I wonder if being a birder can be on a continuum, so you can be a little bit of a birder? Or maybe that's a contradiction in terms, because to be a birder you have to be obsessed. And obsessed is like being pregnant, in that you either are or aren't. I'm not a birder like you Chris, but I do love them. I think my spark bird was the common old sea gull. When I was a child, there was nothing I loved more than to go to the beach with bread to feed the gulls.

  6. i think that anything that gives you that investigate get excited a good thing!!
    don't lose that spark & happy birding!! =) always.

  7. I know recently I have become obsessed with going birding....and I'm always thrilled to spot one I haven't marked off in my bird book. It's a way of meeting people, learning, and learning skills in photography too, and where we go to go birding, there is exercise/walking involved. That's always good.

    Your bird images area always such a wonderful array of beauties. {and in you care to---don't forget to link up at the Bird D'Pot, so others can come and visit with you}

  8. Dla mnie wszystkie ptaki są piękne i dlatego bardzo lubię zaglądać do Ciebie i czekam na nowe posty. Pozdrawiam.
    For me, all the birds are beautiful and that is why I like to look up to you and look forward to new posts. Yours.

  9. wow. i'd have a hard time iding my spark bird. i loved birds from when i was a small child and would draw them in crayons. :)

  10. Oh you are definitely a birder Chris, sometimes a person is the last one to realise this !! I think my 'spark bird' is the Splendid Fairy Wren, i spotted and managed to take a shot of one last year and have been looking for more ever since. I certainly can see the appeal of your Lance Tailed Manakin, a real little colourful gem.

  11. That's why I like you so much, Chris! You love a lot of the things that I love. When my husband and I lived in Alabama (which is where I am originally from)while he went to Walker Jr. College (and later on to UAB) after Viet Nam we started birding. It was a very feeble beginning and boy that was so many years ago, it's going to be hard to remember what my spark bird was (somewhere there is a notebook with the list we kept! least I hope it's still somewhere :-) ) I remember seeing Scarlet Tanagers and Eastern Towhees and Dark Eyed Juncos. My parents owned 60 acres of Alabama woods, and in those woods were what we called "cow-cumbers," a magnolia relative with creamy white blooms bigger than a turkey platter and leaves as long as my arm.

    I am a country girl but I have also lived a lot of different places, including Midway Island, and I had a chuckle over your "Sandwich Tern" comment. I lived among Fairy Terns and, you know, I bet the Sandwich Tern is prolific in the Sandwich Islands. :-) Of course, my hubby says they are pretty good on toasted wheat. :-)

  12. Great birds and photos, Chris! If you are not a birder now, hanging around Kathie you will become one for sure. Not sure about my one SPARK bird, I loved so many of them. Great post and HAPPY BIRDING

  13. Nice write-up Chris, great narrative. It is all so addicting, so distracting even, and yet so satisfying, even when the pictures don't turn out.

  14. These are wonderful shots, as always. Chris. I love your spark bird!

    This is Jill from chillinwithjill. I lost my blog so am starting over.

  15. Well, we're on the same page when a Sandwich is sacred and an Owl is a God.
    I'm still thinking about the spark thingy.
    Love your beautiful photos as always.

  16. Oh thanks for this narrative, and I am awed by that mammal, most of all. I heard first that word "spark bird" when i formally joined an out of town birding tour, we just registered to see the migratory birds in season. We were asked what ours are, so i chose the barn swallow because of the unusual tail. But i don't see them anywhere except in that area. So i guess i better change my spark bird, to the white morf of our Philippine coucal. It lives in our property with the dense thicket.

  17. I just made an observation about your blog while reading this is energizing! I find myself getting short of breath and almost anxious as I try to keep up with you and your mercurial mind! I'm having fun because you're having fun! Keep up the good work, Chris.

  18. Chris, what an interesting post! So well written and so you! Thanks for sharing your story with us. I have yet to identify my spark bird since I can always remember watching them and wanting to identify them!


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