Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doing the Stumbling Snake

A correspondent, sympathizing with my inability to photograph pileated woodpeckers, offers advice: "when retrieving your camera, go more slowly in your 'ornithological glide': move like a stalking snake."

Clearly my correspondent doesn't know me very well.

I have spent enough time with genuine birders to know that they've got  a bit of snake DNA hidden deep within their genes just where I'm carrying the Keystone Kops Kromosome. If you've seen The Big Year, you may have absorbed the absurd notion that birders frantically race through the underbrush knocking over rivals and making an unearthly hullabaloo just to glimpse a sparrow's tail, but anybody who makes that much noise and fuss is unlikely to see anything at all.

I'm not (usually) as loud and ungainly as the guys in The Big Year, but it's not easy being serpentine, especially when the pileated woodpeckers show up while I'm sitting on the deck with a computer on my lap and cup of hot tea in my hand. The camera is inside the house. Between me and the camera are one door, two throw rugs, a vacuum cleaner trailing a power cord, and enough miscellaneous furniture to trip up an entire Korps of Keystone Kops. Perhaps a snake could maneuver the labyrinth without being noticed, but, as I think I've mentioned, I'm not a snake.

And then when I get back outside and try to stalk the woodpeckers down the hill, I still can't quite manage the 'ornithological glide.' Hopeful is dogging my steps and the hillside is covered with loose leaves, fallen buckeyes, and occasional mud pits, so I'm doing whatever it takes to prevent a non-ornithological slide down the slope on my butt. (Maybe that's what inspires the kingfisher's chuckling chatter!)

I took three years of tap and ballet classes when I was a wee tot, but I don't recall ever learning the Ornithological Glide or the Stalking Snake. Instead, I've mastered the Stumbling Snake, the Careening Klutz, and the Bumptious Birder. These steps don't get me close to reclusive woodpeckers, but at least they keep the kingfishers chuckling.         

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