Monday, January 16, 2012

I am NOT a birder!

This week we hear from Jon Brown, one of the cameramen that helped so much with Punk Rock Big Year. He was the one that I told first and pushed me to the finish line all the way along. Next week; Rachel Riordan, my wife, weighs in on the effect of the big year on her and our family.

Jon Wayne Brown with 20 lbs. of camera.

If thereʼs one thing Iʼve learned from riding on Paulʼs big-year coattails, itʼs that birders are crazy people. Which is probably why I got along with them so well.

It is completely irrational to drive hours upon hours to chase a bird that may or may not be doing its mating dance on a frozen, and at the same time cruelly wet field in the wee hours of a frigid late-winter morning. Even Paul wouldnʼt argue this point, though heʼd probably add that the same can be said for chasing after such lunatics with twenty pounds of camera on your shoulder. Touché.

But Iʼm talking about the best kind of crazy. That irrational impulse to do something you love, despite the naysayers and the costs. I think this experience has really clued me in to the common drive anyone with a passion shares. Itʼs easy to judge another personʼs interest as a foolish waste of time while holding your own up as something noble that warrants countless hours of unrewarded effort, at least in the accepted sense. I should know, Iʼm a writer. With a BFA no less.

So in case you havenʼt figured it out, Iʼm being facetious. A couple of years ago I might have thought birders crazy and meant exactly that. Working on this documentary with Paul has been a definite eyeopener, and I feel privileged for the experience. I hope that the finished film will be able to capture what I saw firsthand and share it with a broader audience. In the end, it isnʼt just about seeing beyond the Tilley hats and safari vests, but about the need for understanding across social boundaries.

As I told my parents when they asked, with a surprising amount of concern I might add - No, this year hasnʼt turned me into a birder. You wonʼt find me on the birder chat sites or amongst the cluster of scopes at the next rare-bird sighting five hours north of god knows where.

But a pair of binoculars is on my wish list. Just a small pair, nothing fancy, that I can toss in my backpack the next time I go hiking. And if I manage to focus the damn things on anything other than a sea gull (rats of the sky as theyʼre known back home, a fishermanʼs prejudice) Iʼll think of the wonderfully crazy birders I feel lucky to have met over the past year.

And if I spot something I think might be rare, Iʼll call Paulʼs wife Rachel up to see if Iʼm allowed to tell him.

Iʼll end with a list of my own, which I will not be tattooing on my body in latin or otherwise.
Jonʼs Big Year Highlights (in no particular order): 

- Sprinting across the wet/frozen field like a giddy fool upon hearing someone yell “Gotʼem!” - Pelee Island. All of it. - My first high speed car chase. 
- Spending more time in the woods than I have for I donʼt know how long.
- Interviewing the teenaged speakers of the Ohio Young Birders Conference and wishing I could be like them.
- A lazy morning at Kenn Kefferʼs drinking Birds & Beans, followed by breakfast pie at Blackberry Corner.
- Paulʼs best line of the year, spoken the first time I filmed one of his tattoo sessions: “If you want a good shot of me in pain, get ready.”
- Our new friend, Rocky the Raccoon.



  1. Thanks Robert. It's going to be a long while in post production as my credit card is funding it but this blog will be the first place i announce it.

  2. Great post from a..can I say once non birder? Cant wait for the film!!

  3. He was pretty into some stuff we saw last year but wasn't nearly as disappointed when we dipped on the Razorbill after 7 hours driving...