Why Flying Lessons: You can learn a lot from the birds

by Anders Gyllenhaal
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This is the mysterious bird that turned out to be a Mourning Warbler.

For days, we couldn’t figure out what the small, yellow bird was that stared out from a series of photos taken in the southern Nova Scotia. Beverly looked through every one of her many birding books without finding a match. I went back and looked at looked at all the photos for clues.

Finally, Beverly emailed the photo to a birding expert and friend in Maryland to ask for his help. He said it was a tricky one because the bird was almost certainly a juvenile who’d yet to come into its full colors. They eventually decided it had to be a first-year Mourning Warbler, an uncommon species that just happened to look a lot like other Warblers.

Anders and Beverly, in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Beverly and I take very different approaches to birding. She is exacting and studious. She can spend an hour moving slowly through the woods or fields to suss out shy birds, and then devote another hour hardly moving as she watches them at work and play. She has gradually taught herself to spot species even from afar, to learn their complex calls and to coax them out of their hiding places. Like with the Mourning Warbler, she won’t give up until she’s figured out what she’s seen.

On the other hand, I like to charge ahead to see what’s around the next corner. As the photographer, I try to keep moving and hope to come upon birds by surprise. I’m happiest when I can catch a bird in flight, taking off or landing to show the magnificent science of flying. I’m comfortable with guesses as to what we’re seeing — and like to move to the next question.

Both of us were journalists for many years. Beverly was a reporter, an editor and then the food editor at The Miami Herald, before she launched syndicated columns on first parenting, and then cooking family meals, which turned into the Desperation Dinners franchise that included weekly columns, then a series of books and finally a national website.

Anders, on the beach in Georgia.

I began as a reporter and photographer at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey, before switching to editing and eventually running newsrooms in Raleigh, Minneapolis and Miami. My last assignment was the top editorial position for McClatchy, a network of newspapers from California to the Carolinas. All of this led to a love of writing, reporting and photography that helped to lead us to this website.

Beverly, at one of our camping sites in Ocracoke, North Carolina.

When we retired, we got the chance to combine our love of the outdoors, camping and hiking with our fascination for birding. We started traveling, first in a small Casita trailer,  and then in the Airstream you see behind Beverly, which lets us stay out for long stretches when the birding is good.

It might be our years in journalism that push us to look for the broader story. That got us thinking about the layers of lessons we’ve encountered over the past several years that go far beyond simply identifying the birds we see. We still consider ourselves to be in the learning stage as birders. But we hope if may have stories, questions, discoveries to share as our experiences.

We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts and observations about learning from the birds.  Here’s an email to use — or please leave comments on any of the posts and pages. And once more, thank you for spending time on Flying Lessons.

-Anders and Beverly

 

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