Monday, September 9, 2013

Life's Unexpected Surprises

The Mexican Spotted Owl was one of my first "target"birds. 

Since June of 2011, after my trip to Panama, I began "bird photography".  I climbed mountains and wandered canyons alone.  I had considered myself a photographer and gardener first.  I still do, but something incredible happened on September 9th of 2012.  It would change the direction of my focus and broaden my views about the world.  For it was on this day, I met Ms. Kathie Brown.  It was also on this day that I would embrace the label "birder".

Saguaro National Park

We decided to meet at Agua Caliente park. She said that we were going to "bird" and I said, "Ok." I wasn't really a true birder at that point as I was still in denial.  Birders were weird people that I didn't really understand.  That's why I did everything alone.  I didn't want to be categorized.

Discovering the international world of birding.  I hired a private shrimp boat to get to Bird Island off the Rocky Point coast in Mexico. 

It was a lonely place.  I would take treks to islands, canyons, and mountains alone.  And I would become excited about discovering new areas and new birds without being able to share it with a friend.  My other half Pat likes the "cooler" birds but like many of our spouses, they are not birders. I have always been a globe trekker and love to travel! There is this insane curiosity to know more.  

Great Horned Owl

Agua Caliente was a park I had known well.  I went there in the past to look for Cedar Waxwings and discovered not only those masked bandits but a Sora and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet.  Little did I know but I had discovered some incredible birds without even realizing it.  I took pics never thinking anything more of it.

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet

I had no idea that there were other people out there who shared my same love for nature. Well I knew they were out there, but how could I meet them? People share many things together like football, running, etc.  When I told people I saw a Cedar Waxwing, they just looked at me "great".   I would later find out that my brother Adam discovered a Cedar Waxwing as a kid and fell in love with the bird on his first bird outing.  My mother loves parrots and knows everything about them. But they are not birders.

Cedar Waxwings getting drunk from the dates on the palms at Agua Caliente Park

I'd go to parks and spot birds while trying to capture the moon rising above a mountain.  I couldn't ID the birds!  So I went online and googled the descriptions of these birds and found Kathie's blog.  She would electronically help me ID these birds even though we didn't know each other.  It wasn't until our friend Gaelyn said hey, "I know this blogger and she's coming back to Tucson.  You should get in touch with her."  Wait!?  Don't I know her? She's the bird expert! I was going to meet someone from blogger?  It made me uncomfortable.  So on our first meet at Agua Caliente, we both let our significant others know where we were.

Brown-crested Flycatcher on Ocotillo at Saguaro National Park

Then we met in person.  I could see right away that she was a different kind of birder.  One that was human and friendly. I also saw something in her that I hadn't seen in many people during my own travels....a curiosity.  Most people in my life are happy with the status quo and don't push the boundaries, but she was curious.  I've always been one to explore but again I would do it alone. Why should one investigate every little nook and cranny?  I was born wired for exploration.  She was the same.  What we didn't realize on this day was how much each of us would make an impact on the other's life.

That brim of the hat below is just an example of Ms. Brown's constant search for birds. At Agua Caliente park, I would discover how to live my life again.  It would change my world as we discovered hidden birds that I wouldn't normally see on my usual outings.  A Bewick's Wren.  A Green-tailed Towhee. And on and on. Without Kathie's help, I wouldn't have seen the birds or even known how to ID them.  We sat and chatted about EBIRD after our outing.   Turns out I knew nothing.  I still feel that way:) She put me on a path to help me focus and train my abilities for not only birds but other things as well.

So I began to EBIRD and I began to listen.  And I began to open my eyes.  Kathie became not only a friend but my mentor.  Then something else happened.  I started having a lot of fun again rediscovering Arizona with my new friend Kathie.  We traveled the state and explored so many new and old places together.  All of it fresh and exciting as when I first made my move to this state years ago.  My friends began to ask me what was going on in my life and why I was happy again.  Our spouses raised an eyebrow.  I had found my "football" buddy.  

I began reading and researching birds left and right.  And then I found I couldn't stop.  It was really interesting.  Kathie taught me more about Ebird and for the first time since my days studying Spanish, I found myself wishing I were back in college getting my degree in biology/ecology instead of teaching a foreign language.  I have had to do a lot of soul searching on this matter and have decided that I'll retire from teaching and begin my second career in ten years.  But interestingly enough, I now utilize my Spanish skills abroad to find birds.  Perhaps this was all meant to be. Either way, I'm happy with my daytime job and after school passion.  

Kathie is a lister.  She loves lists!  Start another count here.  Do another there.  Ugh!  Sometimes it drives me crazy BUT when she's not around........I find myself doing it automatically.  I am more cynical.  I am a chaser searching for lifebirds.  She is patient and takes her time.  Her good natured personality has taught me how to live a better life. Rid the negative and focus on the positive.  Working with the public for 18 years had tainted my views of the world.  But since I began birding with Kathie, I have found a way to forget my work and negative feelings.  It has become therapy for me.  I have also learned, because of her, how to rid myself of people who drain my energy with their negativity. Life is too short to be constantly listening to people's problems.....especially the ones who would prefer to dwell in that darkness.  She has become my zen master:)

But I am a bit adventurous.  There is no such thing as "can't".  "We will."  And together there have been many moments of triumph.  She had helped me find so many life birds in those first 6 months.  Then it was time for me to step up to the plate and return the favor. And when I could help her find lifebirds, I began to feel like a contributing part of the team.  Kathie will list wherever she is and will be completely happy finding the same birds.  I'm okay with that as long as there is a rare bird in the bunch.  With her listing abilities and my detective work, we make a great team today. 

It's hard not to get sucked up into the competitive side of birding.  I just like to bird and find lifebirds wherever.  But I will admit that I had become competitive over the summer.  Kathie brought me back to reality and now I'm back to just finding life birds again. The birding world can be a nasty one.  Some like to boast about their numbers and it honestly made me feel insignificant. I had forgotten the whole purpose behind birding....the journey. Kathie reminds me of this balance for it is all about the birds.  It really is.   There are success stories and of course, the nasty dippings(missing your target bird)!  And yet when I stepped back and asked Ms. Brown, "Do you realize how much we've done in one year together?"  We both smiled and are super proud of our work and accomplishments.  The breathtaking landscapes.  The owling in the star lit canyons.  Entering a mining town and searching for birds. And so on and so forth.  The journey has been an amazing one. 

I began blogging back in 2010 about this life journey.  Today I write for Las Aventuras and Birding is Fun!(thanks to Kathie).  I will forever be grateful to her for her friendship, teachings, patience, kindness and understanding.  In only one year, I have seen so many things because of her guidance.  I have 10000 birds to find.  Some we'll find together.  Others I will find alone.  But I will always have Kathie to thank.   We have some spectacular adventures planned for the upcoming year and into next.  Football season is here which means that while Kathie's hubby is watching the games, we get to go bird! And that's the only reason why I love football season:)  I know I don't say it often but thank you Kathie for your friendship.


  1. Chris, be aware that birders are a very strange lot.
    Don't worry though because enthusiasm is usually constructive.

  2. Hi Chris This is a wonderful post and great tribute to Katie, her friendship and teaching abilities. I just wised Katie lived near me as I would love to meet her but then perhaps you would not share her!! I love all the shots in this post especially at last seeing Katie. Follow your passion in life, the advise she gives you is good and I am sure you will be indebted to her forever for what she has added to your life. Does she have a bog, if so, send me the web site please.

  3. Great post Chris - so positive and inspiring and a wonderful tribute to Kathie.

    I'm so glad you found such a wonderful birding buddy and have so much fun, sightings and adventures together :)

  4. It's great to have a shared interest that you can both contribute to, and then share with others round the world.

  5. Hi Margaret,

    Just click on the link above with her name and you'll find her blog Kathie's Birds. Hope you enjoy your week:)

  6. Hi Chris:) I loved reading about how you met Kathie, and your adventures together. What a fabulous friendship you have Chris.I'm sure Kathie knows how much you value her friendship, but it's really lovely of you to tell her, and us in this way.
    Take care!

  7. I really liked the owl soaring picture

  8. A lovely post again, Chris. I can see, and understand, just how much you value your 'birding buddy'. Congratulations on your first year - may there be many more for you both, as you make a such a great team!!

  9. There is nothing more precious than a good friend!!

  10. Chris, what a great post. Sounds like having Kathie as a mentor and a friend has been a wonderful experience for you! Wonderful photos of the birds and Kathie! Have a great week and happy birding!

  11. Passions can be enjoyed alone, yet shared can also more than double. So glad you two complimentary birders got together to learn and share with such pleasure.

  12. I am sure Kathie is shedding a happy tear after reading this post. I know how she treasures your friendship too. Her passion for birding is contagious. Happy birding!

  13. Chris, what do I say after something like this? You have been too kind. As you know, I was away in Utah and Yellowstone when this posted and so this has been my first chance to sit and read your story. I, too, did not know when I met you that this friendship would develop into such a life long adventurous thing! I am so glad I met you and I am thankful for the ways you push me beyond my fears to do things I would not do alone. Like I said before, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man (or woman) sharpens another." I think we keep each other sharp and I am thankful for the friendship that has developed and all the adventures we have had and all the adventures still to come! Here's to another great year of birding together. I look forward to seeing you grow even more. I am happy to be your friend!

  14. Chris, this is a delightful post. I've known Kathie for at least 7 years through our blogs. I lived with her for a week a few years ago while attending a nature and birding festival in WV. She is everything you said - a lister, excellent birder, and photographer. Glad you found a good friend in Kathie.

    Your photographs are wonderful!



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