Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Birding on Borrowed Time

With all the craziness of life I let the reading of this book slide a lot unfortunately. But before leaving Toronto, I finally did complete it!

Birding on Borrowed time is about the life of Pheobe Snetsinger who turned from being a stay at home mother, to hard-core extreme birder.  She saw over 8,000 of the world's 10,000 birds only beginning to count at the age of 34.  Although the book was completed after Pheobe's death, the majority of it was indeed written by her about all her various adventures.

I found the beginning of the book to be wonderful. The description of her seeing and identifying her first bird....
" the first thing I really saw through those binoculars was a fiery-orange male blackburnian warbler that nearly knocked me Over with astonishment - and quite simply hooked me forever" page 18. 
...really reminded me of the first time I got hooked onto birding. I had always liked birds, but never really understood the whole "birding thing".  I remember being out on a Breeding Bird Survey and heard this crazy and awesome sound, which my coworker ID'd as an Upland Sandpiper.  It was so cool that I then wanted to find it and see what it looked like...and well. That's the first sign of becoming hooked.

 Pheobe, like me, found questions about absolutely everything and learnt to look at life through a different set of glasses.  The following quote really struck me as I read it as I realized that many times I do view everything from a human perspective and standard and well, for somethings you just need to step back and be amazed:

" I observed those flimsy and seemingly precarious stick nests in the top of dead trees, attended by the gangly (great blue heron) adults. "How can they ever get food Ito those fuzzy chicks without stabbing them to death with their bills!?" Watching those creatures do what they had been doing successfully for millions of years, without any help from us, finally let me learn not to judge everything by human standards. Page 19" 

Unfortunately, as the book progressed I did get a little more tired of all the lists...it took a while to finish.  Many of the pages i scanned over as they were just list after list and place after place. However, her descriptions of how she lists and records, as well as her counting ethics, was fascinating and I have started a full list myself!  Once in a while she would go in greater detail about a location she was visiting and it made me really interested to go there...other times it was just a blip on the page.

There were many, many, things that I admired about this amazing woman. Not only did she push on with hope after being diagnosed multiple times with cancer, survive a rape while on a birding trip, but she was also brilliant and competitive defying many odds. She also passed on this love of the outdoors and birding to her children who went on to work in the environmental field.  There were some things that I did question however, for example, to the point that this hobby and obsession became too much of an obsession. For example she noted in the book that at one point her husband had considered divorce as she was never around or that she missed her own daughters wedding because she had already planned a birding trip somewhere.  

In her final trip she unfortunately died during a bus crash, but it was exactly how she wanted, with binoculars in hand.  Overall, I thought it was a really lovely book to read and would suggest it!