I first met Paul Guris, owner of See Life Paulagics, fittingly enough, on a pelagic trip out of Freeport, New York in February of 2006. It was my first pelagic trip, we nearly swept the east coast alcids, we saw a Western Gull, and I had a great time. Paul is a great trip leader, an often hilarious character, and a member of the repeat winners of the World Series of Birding, the Nikon/DVOC Lagerhead Shrikes. Here he shares the story of how he became, um, interested in an odd part of the birding world. Enjoy!
Corey contacted me a few months back and asked if I’d like to do a guest post. Seems that “Poop Week” was coming up and he had admired (REALLY?) my Crappy Bird Pics gallery on FaceBook. “Uuuuuh, sher” was my pithy and clever reply, followed by “What do you want me to write?” All he asked was for a description of my “obsession with pooping birds.”
First, I’d like to set the record straight. I do not have an “obsession”. I prefer to think of it as rank opportunism. I also toss in a good healthy dose of juvenile amusement. I love South Park, Family Guy, and Robot Chicken, and if you know those shows then they should be more than enough explanation for that last sentence.
Now that we’ve got the record straight, it’s time to review a bit of history. Everybody with a drug addiction had an enabler, and my rather recent love of bird photography is no different. Andy Curtis is a buddy of mine, and he was into photography before me. On a fateful day less than two years ago, Andy, me, and my wife Anita were birding southern Delaware. Andy was clicking off a few snaps with his Nikon D80. Anita asked the innocent question, “How do you like that camera for birds?”
His reply was to hand her the camera. I can just imagine the words that were flowing through his head. “Yeah. Go ahead. Trrrryyyy it. It’ll make you feel good.” A Forster’s Tern flew by, Anita made the camera go “click” and she was hooked. Becoming an instant enabler herself, she immediately said, “Paul, you have to try this!”
By October we both had brand spankin’ new Nikon D90s. And two new Nikkor 70-300mm lenses. And a general purpose lens. And then an 80-400mm lens. And then a macro. And then… Oh, yeah. We got it real bad. (Andy was in the process of upgrading as well.) To further freebase the photography drug into our systems, we had our cameras for less than a month when the Cape May Ivory Gull appeared. It flew, it sat, it fed, and it preened, and all soooooo close. Any chance of finding our way back up into the realm of sanity was dashed for good.
So now you know that Andy introduced us to bird photography, but it turns out he was also the inspiration for my Crappy Bird Pics gallery. There’s a great quote from the very foul comedian Jim Norton that I can’t quite remember, but goes something like “You know that one friend you have that doesn’t have boundaries, which is probably why you like him in the first place?” For me, Andy is that friend. And after a few months of trading very nice photographs, Andy proudly sent me an “action” photo of some bird expelling an earlier meal. That’s what friends are for, right?
Now all of this might seem innocent enough, but being the red-blooded American male that I am, i.e. I’ve held onto at least part of my adolescence like it was a life sustaining force (review favorite shows above), I had to retaliate. One night I’m going through my photos and find one that has captured a bombing Brant. I immediately think of Andy. Post-processing as quickly as I can, I create a JPEG and quickly send it off to him. And there it might have ended, except that Andy likes all the same shows that I do meaning this can’t end well. Hell, it means it can’t end at all! What followed from him was a photo of a Double-crested Cormorant (included here for your viewing pleasure) in full fire hose display.
The photos flying back and forth continued almost as quickly as they were taken. It actually added a new dimension to my photography (as pathetic as that sounds). When I was photographing an Osprey nest in the Outer Banks, I watched one of the young birds climbing to the edge of the nest. I smelled, er, sensed an opportunity! Waiting patiently as it backed up, I hoped to seize the right moment and capture the imminent fecal fireworks. I hoped, I judged, I reacted, and I pressed the shutter release button down as hard as I could. The result speaks for itself (also included here for your viewing pleasure).
I now have 10 photos in my Crappy Bird Pics gallery of 9 different species. I was particularly pleased with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and the fact that I managed to rack up Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on my pelagics. Now if I can just get a killer midstream Northern Gannet on one of those trips, I’ll probably print it out in poster size and tape it to the inside of Andy’s storm door in the middle of the night.
Hmmmm. Interesting how things start to become clearer when you write about them. OK, I really don’t feel like editing this so to all of you who have read this far, you can mentally go back up to the start of the post and remove what I said about this not being an obsession.
Poop Week is a week of themed posts on 10,000 Birds that cover the intersection of poop and birding, a fertile precinct if there ever was one. Rather than just discuss the horror of a pigeon dropping droppings on someone’s head we decided to really get down the nitty-gritty details of poop, to the point where it is squishing up between our toes. Not only is Poop Week a fascinating way to spend seven days in June it is also a serious attempt to elevate the level of discourse in the bird blogosphere, which, as we all have no choice but to admit, is far too low. Enjoy, and make sure to wipe up afterwards, would you?