If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our October Author Interviews--10/4 Wendy Tyson, 10/11 Marilyn Levinson, 10/18 Earl Javorski, 10/25 Linda Lovely. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


October Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/7 Mark Bacon, 10/14 Elaine Orr, 10/21 WWK's Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/28 Kait Carson, and E. B. Davis 10/31 to fill out our fifth Tuesday.


WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla! Look for Carla's blog this month to find out the winner.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Sunday, April 23, 2017

10 Similarities Between Birding and Writing

By James M. Jackson

Birding and writing have a lot of similarities. Say what? Read on.

I'iwi
As part of our Hawaiian vacation, Jan and I joined a birding tour of the islands. It was a great vacation and I did very little writing while we were gone, but I did think about writing. Here are ten ways birding and writing are similar.

1. In birding and writing, no matter how good you are, someone is better than you, at least in some aspects.

No additional commentary needed on this one.

2. Birding and writing can both be solo activities.

Much of my writing time is spent by myself, often in the early hours of the morning before others have risen. One of my favorite times to bird is soon after sunrise before heat sears the day. The birds are frequently most active then (they’re hungry) and, even in suburbs and cities, human activity is mostly quiet. The commitment and effort for each activity can be individual and requires very little more than directed effort: paper and pen or computer for writing, alert eyes and ears (binoculars help) for birding.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds
3. It’s often more fun when you bird or write with a group.

I do love being out in the woods or fields by myself (or joined by a faithful hound), but birding with a group has some real advantages. Multiple sets of eyes spot more birds. Group expertise aids any identification problems, and I gain insights from other group members. Lastly, there is the comradery of a shared passion.

So, too, with writing. Many of us benefit from critique groups, writing retreats (even when they are virtual), and the comradery of a shared passion.

4. Sometimes the fastest way to a desired result in birding and writing is to pay for expertise.

I dislike paying other people to do things I can do myself. However, I’ve learned there are times and places where paying for expertise provides a superior result. In writing, a professional developmental edit not only saves me the time of countless rewrites I would have to suffer through to make a story as strong as I would like it, but a professional spots issues I would never see for myself.

Young Laysan Albatross waiting for parents to return with food (this was in someone's front yard!)

In birding, I could bumble around trying to find the right places to see a particular bird and then struggle to identify it when similar species are also around. Paid experts who have scouted the area can significantly increase my odds of seeing more and different birds than I could do on my own.

In an expert’s hands, arcane becomes accessible. For example, when asked how you can tell a yellow-billed cuckoo from a black-billed cuckoo, a novice takes the name clue and concentrates on the bill. Someone who knows those two species can tell them apart in a flash by looking at the tail. Now you know, too.

5. Sometimes in birding and writing one significant detail paints a memorable picture.

In Hawai’i, there are no woodpeckers. The pound-on-a-tree-to-get-food niche was taken by the Akiapolaau, which over generations shortened and strengthened its lower mandible into a strong stub it uses for pounding holes into the tree. The top mandible curved into a specialized instrument to pry food from the hole. One look at its bill, and I can remember that bird forever. There is nothing like it.

Akiapolaau

Nor can one forget a character described as, "He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth — tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola."

6. In birding and writing, little details often make a big difference.

LBJs: Little brown jobbies, are the bane of birders everywhere. Yet, if you focus on the correct detail, you can differentiate between one confusing fall warbler and another, a male versus a female. The differences can be subtle: white wingbars versus pale yellow, a full eye-stripe versus a partial, winter coloring versus mating plumage. These differences give clues to birders about species or subspecies, age, and sex -- useful when birding and important when we write about a specific time or space.

Pacific Golden Plover in winter and summer plumage

Consider these Pacific Golden Plovers in winter and mating plumage and think about how impoverished a paragraph would be that only mentioned their name without any sense of which set of clothes the bird was wearing.

Forest devastation
7. You never know what else you’ll learn while you’re birding or writing.

Keeping an open mind while writing or birding often leads to interesting insights. Sometimes I am drawn to write about something as a way of exploring a topic that perhaps I didn’t realize I needed to understand. When birding, I often discover something I had not understood. I knew before my trip to Hawai’i that the islands had suffered significant avian species losses since Captain Cook “discovered” the island chain.

While in Hawaii, I “discovered” that the remaining endemic bird species are being ravaged by a combination of avian diseases new to the islands and decreasing habitat caused by new microbes and viruses recently introduced into Hawaii. The death of forests inevitably leads to the death of birds, especially those specialized to only one or two plants.

8. Setting the scene is equally important in birding and writing.

Common Myna with attitude

In good writing, a character acts within a setting, and the setting brings out certain character elements. Eliminate setting cues and the writer must rely on talking heads or internal dialog. Setting is a major clue birders use in their attempt to identify an unknown bird. Some birds are ground dwellers, others prefer the tops of trees. Some like forest, others prefer open space or ocean.

Marsh Sandpiper, taken through a fence at a LONG distance
And yet the biggest surprises are when a character or bird are found out of their natural habitat. How did they get there? How do they adjust? We want to know what will happen. On our last official birding day in Hawai’i, we visited sewage treatment settling ponds and spotted a Marsh Sandpiper. This species breeds in Central Europe and Central Asia and normally winters in Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, or Australia—and yet this wanderer found its way to the big island of Hawai’i. Anthropomorphize for a moment: what stories it can tell after it returns home to its flock.


9. A picture can be worth 1,000 words.


My memory is triggered by pictures. I could journal a thousand words to describe the power of waves lashing the shore created from lava flows centuries ago in an effort to remember the experience, or I can take a single picture and use it to trigger a remembrance of the day, including the wind whipping the tops of waves, the scent of the sea. I use those same picture-triggers to inform my writing when I am describing a scene, for instance standing on a Hawaiian cliff, watching Red-footed Boobies flying by.

Red-footed Booby

10. Paying it forward works equally well in birding and writing.

I could spend an entire blog’s worth of words simply listing names of writers who have befriended me without recompense. I like to think I would appear on others’ lists as well. Similarly, I can think of birders who have gone out of their way to help me become a better birder, for example differentiating between Greater and Lesser Scaup. I always offer my telescope to others to see birds in a way their eyes or binoculars will never allow them to see, like seeing a Black-crowned night heron “up close.”

Black-crowned Night Heron

I either convinced you or not about the similarities between birding and writing. What I’m curious about is which picture you like best and why.

19 comments:

Margaret Turkevich said...

birding and writing are very similar. No question about it.

I'm fascinated by the Akiapolaau and how it takes the place of woodpeckers in the ecosystem.

I've always wanted to see a Booby, red or blue footed, outside a zoo.

I like the night heron "in habitat." How similar is it to continental USA cousins?

Do birds in Hawaii migrate? And are there species specific to certain islands? Hawaii offers every conceivable kind of terrain.

Jim Jackson said...

Margaret,

There are many birds that migrate to and from Hawaii, with Hawaii being the winter home. The Pacific Golden Plovers are an example. In the next few weeks the bird pictured in full breeding plumage should be in Alaska.

There are endemics specific to each island. Some, like the Amakihi have speciated, so the ones found on Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai are three separate species found nowhere else. Others birds may be found on only a single island.

A number of birds are endemic subspecies of North American birds. For example the Black-necked Stilt is Himantopus mexicanus knudseni, the knudseni subspecies found only in Hawaii, but on all the islands.

The Black-crowned Night-heron are the same as you'd see in the U.S. and if it's a subspecies, it's one that appears elsewhere.

~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

Fascinating! Your pictures are wonderful & I'd be hard pressed to choice a favorite.

The picture of the surf, thought, with your thoughtful musing about pictures vs. words, really hit home.

Sounds like you had a great trip.

Jim Jackson said...

KM -- We did have a great trip. My biggest problem with this blog was figuring out which pictures to use!

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

It's way too hard to pick a favorite. If I had to pick a favorite photo, I love the myna with attitude. "Don't tell me to stay off your lawn!"
These birds hardly seem real - so colorful and those bills! What about the bird calls? Also so different, I imagine.

Jim Jackson said...

Shari -- The Common Myna fills a similar role as the Starling here. Introduced and very adaptable, so it is very common.

Hawaii endemic bird species have unique calls, but they are no more exotic than some of the neotropical migrants we have in the U.S. Just this morning, I opened my office window and was entertained for more than a half-hour by the warbling of a pair of bluebirds I have nesting nearby. Once the sun came up, they stopped the song (and probably went hunting for breakfast).

~ Jim

Becky Michael said...

Wonderful photos, Jim! I think that I'd have to pick the Black-crowned Night Heron. I love the visible details of its eye and feathers, along with the flowering vegetation. I also appreciate the similarities you've brought out between birding and writing. I've never thought of them in that way, before!

Jim Jackson said...

Becky -- yours is the second vote for the Black-crowned Night Heron. It's leading by 100% .

Kait said...

Boobies have my heart. Especially your photo. This little guy is zooming through the sky wings back, completely streamlined, eyes telescoped down waiting to go into his dive. What a beauty. The photo tells a complete story. Well done.

Were you and Jan there following a storm? Here in Florida we often have surprising visitors carried in on hurricane currents (and the currents ahead of and behind the storms). Depending on how likely the bird is to adapt to our climate and live out a normal, if lonely lifespan, it may be left undisturbed, but if it is apt to turn into a life or death situation because of a lack of food source, there have been cases where repatriation rescues have occurred.

Good post, Jim, and the photos, wonderful.

Mary Feliz said...

What a "novel" comparison. I completely agree, but had never noticed the similarities. I've come to the birding game late, but love it...especially since I live in an area that hosts so many different migratory visitors and residents.

Vinnie/www.vinniehansen.com said...

Okay, I don't go for the black-crowned night heron because I get to see them a lot. I'd pick the akiapolaau. I've never seen a bill anything like that! What a magnificent example of evolution. (Yeah, I'm one of those crazy believers in science.)

I also think birding and writing are alike because they both require patience. :)

Thanks for sharing.

Jim Jackson said...

@Kait -- No recent major storms in Hawaii that would have brought in vagrants (as a birding term -- wanderer). Sometimes a storm near the start of a bird's migration will throw off its compass and they voluntarily fly to strange new places.

Inland New England often gets a shearwater or albatross or some other pelagic bird as a result of it being carried in along with a hurricane's winds.

@Mary -- the birding game (and writing game) both accept late arrivals to their ranks -- another way they are similar.

@Vinnie -- Doesn't it make you wonder how the transformation from a "normal" bill to the one sported by the Akiapolaau took place, with not just one mandible but both so transformed from the original model?

And you are right that while birders and writers may be impatient people, each activity does require patience to do well.

~ Jim

Kaye George said...

My favorite of this set has to be the albatross, because it's in someone's front yard! That little detail made it remarkable for me, and gives me more of an idea what Hawaii is like. Thanks for the post--excellent idea.

(And yes, you'd be on my list.)

Jim Jackson said...

Kaye,

The longer story about the albatrosses is this: They used to have a colony that nested in the area. A housing development was built and the birds kept coming. The residents are enamored with the long-winged birds and try very hard to protect them while they are nesting. The neighborhood hosts between 10 and 25 chicks each year. The parents leave the chicks for long periods while they fish for food as far away as Alaska (and I thought our 27-mile trip to the grocery store when we're in Michigan was long!).

Kaye George said...

Even MORE interesting! (We beat you by 3 miles to the grocery store in Hubbard--well, the store was in Waco--30 miles. Ugh. Poor albatross!)

Rosalind Villers said...

Great photos and great analogies, Jim! Writing is very much like birding. I love all your photos, but I think I like the red-footed booby the best. What a great shot, and it looks like you're up there with it!

Kait said...

What a delightful story about the albatrosses! He? She? is adorable, and to have the chick in your yard. amazing.

Gloria Alden said...

What gorgeous and interesting pictures, Jim. I've always been interested in birds, but not to the extent you are. Most of my bird watching is close to home, and unfortunately with my eye problems it's harder for me to see those higher in the trees even with binoculars. My interest in birds also includes birds I keep in my house, like my little canary Pavarotti, who sings when I use my hair dryer and gets excited when I'm fixing my lunch because he knows he's going to get some broccoli which he loves.

Jim Jackson said...

@Rosalind -- I was standing on a cliff, so we were "eye-to-eye" for that shot. I have a bunch of other pics looking down on the seabirds.

@Kait -- I have no clue how to determine the sex of a juvenile albatross, so you can choose whichever pronoun you prefer. :)

@Gloria -- It's the time of the year I often get "warbler neck" from leaning back and looking at birds at the tops of trees.

~ Jim