Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.

Perhaps it has become a bit tiring, all of this screaming monkey imagery, but I got myself into this and am genetically incapable of not seeing it through.

I can at least report that I am writing and drawing from a change of weather and scenery, and that I am spending my mornings looking for birds from my swanky perch in Altadena, CA. I grew up here, and like many East Coast transplants, I have dueling feelings of complete familiarity and culture shock whenever I return. It is difficult to bird when every single human being out for a morning stroll in the canyon says hello, for instance. How nice, I think at first, smile broadly, and answer in kind. The fifth time this happens (8 minutes later) I accidentally say “Selasphorus,” or, more prosaically, “Scrub Jay,” because that is what I am really thinking and because the wiring from my brain to mouth is stunted and one-tracked. Ten minutes in and I am battling poison oak on the deer tracks, trying to avoid people. This makes me feel like a jerk. But I can’t seem to ignore them – I am not from New York, after all, just acclimated to it – so when they ask if I am birdwatching, I respond politely. At least the whole business with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been out of the media for a while. You would not believe, during the months after it was proclaimed that one had been caught on video, then not, then yes, then not, how many people would smile knowingly and say, “Got an Ivory-billed Woodpecker there?” And amazingly, each time it happened, the person would truly believe that they had said something unique and witty. I personally must have been asked about twenty times; I can’t imagine how many times other birders heard it.

But back on topic, for your drunken monkey pleasure, a fluff piece of video, and a link to an article that continues our discussion of “Why monkeys/chimps do not make good dates.”

More seriously, an article from Psychology Today: The Evolution of Economic Rationality: Do Monkeys Understand Money?

I should mention that the weekend folk at Gawker were my source for these links, obviously I’m not the only one “working” on a Sunday.

4 Responses to “july 20”

  1. Catherine swanky lady,
    I get a kick out of the image of you replying to social niceties with the name of the bird you are thinking about… another kinda strange film like image I get with your writings and descriptions of your inner & outer landscape. I think this film would also include the street light lamps that turn and look at you as you’re driving… something I recall you mentioning once when painting your RI cityscapes.

  2. Alina et al.,
    You would not BELIEVE the strange looks you get when people ask what you are looking at, and you reply things like, “Frigatebirds!!!”, or “Brown Booby!!!” Yes, those really are birds, and yes, at least the frigatebird one popped out of my mouth.


    In mid September of 1986, reports came down that a RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD was being seen daily off Gay Head Cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard. MV has a well-earned reputation for hosting rarities, BUT while the “high season” is still under way. This means that birders “going for the tick” have to take the ferry over sans cars (those slots are booked months in advance) and either take a bus around the island or hire a taxi (expensive!). This was the first MA record in many decades of this tropical species, so the usual gang of hardcores (including me) assembled at the dock in Woods Hole to take the first ferry over.

    We all piled into the island tourist bus, taking up the entire bus, and rode to the extreme western tip of the island. For those of you familiar with the area, the bus lets you off on this loop road where there are the usual tourist gee-gaw shops, snack places, the lighthouse (get a picture!) and behind the buildings, a small paved overlook from atop one of the cliffs that looks down on the beach and over the seas. THIS is where people had been seeing the bird. When we arrived, the entire Gay Head Cliffs area was socked in with a dense fog, but being hardcores, we were unfazed and proceeded up to the lookout, setting up scopes, prepared for the big sit to (1) wait for the fog to lift and (2) hopefully wait for the bird to make a pass. Every 15 minutes, a tour bus would pass ejecting more birders and now more tourists, also disappointed that the fog was ruining their moment. By 10AM, there were about 75 birders all with bins and scopes at the ready.

    The fog finally cleared by late morning and now the wait for the bird began in earnest. Looking down onto the beach I noticed that one of the bathers was nude…then another…then another and I quickly realized that we were overlooking a CLOTHES OPTIONAL BEACH. Actually, NO ONE had a suit. AND OF COURSE: we (the birders) were all looking in the nudists direction with state of the art binocs and scopes. In other words, we looked like an organized group of voyeurs; or if you think less charitably: pervs.

    There was a funny moment when the word got around our group that we were overlooking an ever-growing number of nudists and that to the public, we must look like jerks. BUT of course being hardcores there was never a question that we would leave without seeing the bird. I began to think hard about what birding really meant.

    What made the situation REALLY squirrely was that an ever growing number of tourists would come out to our aerie and seeing the nudists and seeing us, would do the equivalent of the famous Monty Python “wink wink nudge nudge” bit; and when, in our defense, we said we were waiting for a bird, there were the usual barrage of “I bet I know what kind of birds you’re looking for” followed by, well…you can well imagine. THIS WENT ON FOR HOURS.

    Finally, by mid afternoon the bird showed up, we got great views and we all made a beeline outta there. But I was always left with the realization that birding, as Jonathan Rosen described it, “is sanctioned voyeurism” and that hundreds of folks left the area thinking we, and perhaps birders in general, were leering asses (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And the truth is, without anything else to look at for many hours, we did sometimes stare at the people on the beach, especially when they started to cover themselves with the colorful mud from the cliffs and transform themselves into what we called “the mud people”. ( see cover of The Slits first LP for an idea of the effect)

    Addenda: perhaps the weirdest thing was when, as the afternoon waned, we began to recognize some of the birders, formerly part of our group, now down on the beach, joining the mud people.

    Write your own moral.


  4. I must say, after rereading the article link, I’m not sure the study was particularly good science. Perhaps unrelated, whomever chose the photo for the article doesn’t know the difference between a chimp and a monkey.

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