Twitcher photo via Wikipedia
Twitcher photo via Wikipedia

This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks! Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

I’ve become a birder (in British English the pejorative is a “twitcher.”)  The kind of person for whom “the very mention of some exotic avian delight, a purple Peruvian rock thrush for example, sends them into paroxisms. They literally twitch; hence “twitchers.” I set out seed every day during the winter and it has been really wintry recently and I watch the birds from the bay window of the house eating and flocking with the kind of rapt attention Husb. has for Battlestar Galactica. 

Being a twitcher involves using great new vocabulary which is, in fact, one the the reasons I’m smitten. Some of the bird names are hilarious. There is an “Invisible Rail.” “Blue Footed Booby” makes my son, 9, laugh so hard he farts, and so does “Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker.” Birding combines science and comedy.

A few weeks ago I took the kids to Irvine Nature Center‘s training for Project FeederWatch which is a citizen science project in which you and crazed twitcher loved ones can collect data to send to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We marched around in the cold with clipboards and learned to identify a purple finch. My son, 9, said, “I doubt any of my friends are doing this.”

“Well,”  I said, “You come from a long line of birders. It’s in your blood.  He said, “My friends definitely won’t think that’s cool, Mom.” I say, in a quote attributed to  Chief Seattle, but possibly written by a Hollywood screen writer — the origins are murky at best according to the National Archives —  “‘You must treat the beasts as your brothers… if all the beasts were gone men would die from a great loneliness of spirit.’” My son gifts me with the biggest eyeroll ever.

Yet I persist. The central tenet of my parenting is the belief that kids should go outside. Play in the dirt. Make stick piles.  They have a concept  of a “field” only in the sense of a “soccer” and that’s so sad. I believe in saving kids from nature deficit disorder by saying things like, “Go play.” “Don’t forget your mittens.” Maybe I am a hands-off mother. Maybe I want them out of the house so I can finally tackle the mountain of laundry or make dinner without the interruption of them bickering over the iPad.

In any case, boy was I proud, I warbled and cooed with happiness, when the Irvine instructor showed us a taxidermied bird  to test our newfound bird-identification skills and my son shot his hand up and called out, “That’s a Nuthatch!”