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ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

Yesterday, the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC) unanimously (8–0) accepted the Egyptian Goose (Alopochen… [read more]

ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist ABA Checklist Committee Adds Egyptian Goose to ABA Checklist

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American… [read more]

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2014 Camp Colorado

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How to Record Birdsong—Part 1

  Two years ago in this space I wrote a three-part primer on the use of digital audio recorders for… [read more]

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Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

Here are three images that appear in the “Featured Photo” column of the May/June 2014 issue of Birding.… [read more]

Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding Featured Photo: May/June 2014 Birding

On Stringing…

(with apologies to “Pat Stringer”) Never identify a bird unless you’re 100% positive. At least… [read more]

On Stringing… On Stringing...
Nikon Monarch 7

    Anticipating Memory

    A Review by Al Schirmacher

    Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-language Haiku, edited and introduced by Allan Burns

    Snapshot Press, 2014

    479 pages, $49.95–hardcover

    ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14462

    Each of us has filters, mental and emotional screens that help us interpret experience. Poetry allows us to temporarily install someone else’s filters to experience reality in ways we normally would miss. Poetic anthologies move us from filter to filter, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes shockingly.

    Where the River Goes is an anthology of that second, sometimes shocking type, an exploration of the work of 40 20th- and early 21st-century American, British, and Australian poets. It’s well worth the journey, even if there are bumps and occasional landslides along the way.

    One filter we birders and ornithologists bring to our interpretation of the world is the language of scientific description. We are so used to ornithological diagnoses, field guide language, descriptive internet posts, and realistic photography that we can forget that there are other filters available for the interpretation of nature. Where the River Goes forces us to lay aside our scientistic filter, leading us instead toward philosophic, even metaphysical, discussion—in three lines, more or less.

    “More or less?”

    Yes, this is not your elementary school teacher’s haiku. Those rigid 5-7-5 syllable counts are passé. Consider these three, very different examples:

    still no word

    a kingfisher flies up

    from dark water

    - Ferris Gilli










    - John Barlow

    gathering thunderheads the bullfrog’s eyes

    - Jack Barry

    Today’s haiku is different, “a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.”

    Another filter crashes.

    Let me take you through the parts of this important collection.

    The editor (and a poet of haiku himself0, Allan Burns, comprehensively, sometimes even exhaustively, introduces Where the River Flows. He explains the anthology’s restriction to only naturalistic works. He also reviews the historical and philosophical roots of haiku in Japan, observing along the way that nature has not fared well in the West; English-language haiku provides a  counterpoint.

    BINbuttonThe editor introduces three filters that I wrestled with as a reader. First, he notes that two thirds of all western haiku mixes natural and human elements; most such poems, suffering from what Burns decries as “anthropocentric creep,” are omitted from this anthology. The absence of poems mingling the natural and the human leaves me with the feeling that something may be missing: after all, poetry is written by humans, presumably to help others and themselves observe, integrate, and relate to nature. Such fusion seems natural, and its absence here unnatural.

    Second, the introduction, and in many ways the anthology as a whole, is overwhelmingly Buddhist in its orientation. This is understandable, since haiku’s origins, and many of its practitioners, are Buddhist. But one wonders whether the pluralism of modern  western culture has not given rise to poets from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheistic, and other traditions. One is left with the impression that only those with Buddhist leanings possess the appropriate self-effacement to compose important haiku. (Allow me to introduce my own filter here, since I am a Christian pastor who writes haiku.)

    And third, Burns occasionally seems to fall into the trap of writing for other poets. This is a troublesome issue for modern poetry, and such hermeticism might detract from the pleasure of the book for naturalists or for the general public.

    But the body of this anthology is worth the entrance fee.

    Each poet is well introduced by a précis summarizing her or his creative history, highlighting particular gifts of imagery and language, and indicating further works worth reading. Burns does not shy from criticism, which encourages his readers, too,  to interact with these poems at a deeper emotional and argumentative level.

    Birders and ornithologists will be pleased to find that birds are prominent in half or more of the poems printed here.

    haze-blurred horizon…

    a painted bunting hovers

    in the sea oats’ curve

    - Peggy Willis Lyles

    a crow in the snowy pine…

    inching up a branch,

    letting the evening sun through

    - Nick Virgilio

    black swans land

    their white under-wings

    fill with moonlight

    - Ron C. Moss

    With more than twenty years of birding behind me, I can see the bunting over the sea oats, I can relish the crow blotting out and then allowing the sunlight to escape, and I can imagine black swans alighting in the night. My heart is captured.

    This book demands work from its reader, but so does any field guide or natural history volume. It perhaps takes more work, since birders’ filters tend to become encrusted, even immovable. There can be a basic scientific-poetic clash.

    One does not read haiku as one reads natural history or science. One does not even read haiku as one reads other poetry. There is no rhyme, no obvious western meter, often not even progression. Haiku are rarely read aloud. Rather, the haiku captures a moment in time, in an intentionally understated manner, requiring that the reader interact with the text mentally and emotionally to fill in the gaps. Haiku are often a single moment of anticipated memory, a written image to be contemplated.

    So adjust your filters and savor. Lay aside the filters of analytical description—just for the moment—and look through new ones.

    On the cover of Where the River Goes, Ted Floyd claims that “Anybody interested in nature and nature writing will delight in this anthology.” He is right.


    A. Schirmacher

    Al Schirmacher is a pastor, former businessman, and erstwhile poet who lives in the booming metropolis of Muscotah, Kansas, after 54 years in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and New Jersey (although he has never birded Cape May, sigh—not many opportunities at age three). He finds himself alternately laughing and worshiping while in the field birding.

    Recommended citation:

    Schirmacher, A. 2014. Anticipating Memory [a review of Where the River Goes, edited and introduced by Allan Burns]. Birding 46(5): 66.

      SNEAK PEEK! Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy, 2014

      Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.44.29 PMThe 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy is on its way to members’ mailboxes. But you can view it (plus additional content) on online right now by clicking on the cover at right. It’s free to everyone. (Birder’s Guide is just one of the free resources that the ABA provides to the birding public.)

      Editorial content includes tales of a photo Big Day in Texas and of Big Years in Guatemala and San Diego County; a detailed “Check-list Redux” explaining all the 2014 AOU Checklist changes; a primer on the concept and history of what a species is; an update on how coastal Texas’s Aplomado Falcons are doing; and a report by the ABA’s Recording Standards and Ethics Committee that affects the countability of those falcons, along with birds like California Condor. And of course there is the 2013 Listing Snapshot, which names the tops listers in the who have submitted lists to selected categories in ABA’s Listing Central.

      As always, please be sure to let us know what you did and didn’t like in this issue, so that we may start planning future issues that better suit your needs. If there’s a topic you see missing that you feel deserves coverage, please let us know by leaving a comment on this blog post. Even better, consider writing about it yourself for the next issue!

      Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.32.55 PM

      RIGHT: The table of contents for this issue.

      As with each prior issue, the entirety of this issue of Birder’s Guide is available online well before it arrives in your mailbox! Just click here. You can download PDFs of the entire issue, or just certain pages, allowing you to read Birder’s Guide on your electronic device even when offline. Just click on the fourth button from the right in the toolbar above the e-magazine. Use the arrow in the image below to guide you. (Note that printing from PDFs already downloaded to a computer seems to work better than the “print” option in the e-magazine.




        Blog Birding #208

        Young birder camps aren’t just great opportunities for the campers, but the interns have a story to tell too. At The Eyrie, Mike Hudson writes about his experiences at Camp Avocet.

        Aside from being able to bird every waking hour, I also had the privilege to be guiding alongside the other instructors, which is not [read more...]

          An Early Rufous Hummingbird?

          It’s a typical story, but no less moving for its familiarity: On the sudden loss of his wife, the German merchant Peter Heinrich Tesdorpf turned to his beloved birds for solace. Even in his bereavement, Tesdorpf could still find pleasure in the magic of the feathered — especially in the wondrous beauty of the [read more...]

            Open Mic: A New World Big Day Record – 354 Species!

            The LSU Peru Big Day team has broken the world record for the most species observed in a single day! Their total of 354 ABA-countable species breaks the previous record by Robinson and Parker set in 1982 (as well as a non-ABA-recognized total of 342 set in Kenya). Below is a report on their effort [read more...]

              Rare Bird Alert: October 17, 2014

              We continue the run for 1st records this week, and while it’s nothing like the streak we enjoyed this time last year, it’s not so bad. Though it seems that a couple of our firsts this week are the victims of odd circumstances rather than straight ahead, unequivocal, uncontroversial first records.

              On the uncontroversial front, [read more...]

                Open Mic: Tackling the World Big Day Record, Part 2

                The following is an update from Louisiana State University Big Day team members on their progress in scouting for their Peru Big Day, an attempt to break the world big day record while raising support for research on Neotropical birds. The ABA is excited to offer them a platform for promoting their attempt. For more [read more...]

                  The ABA Survey, Help the ABA Better Serve Birders!

                  At the ABA, we are very interested in what you think about the state of the organization, and we want to hear from YOU. Please take this short five minute survey and let us know how you feel about the ABA and your membership.

                  THIS SURVEY IS NOT LIMITED TO CURRENT ABA MEMBERS, though! If you are [read more...]

                    A week on St. Paul, An ABA Rarity Hunt Roundup

                    The September-October turnaround is reportedly a great time for birding in western Alaska, and St. Paul Island, that little speck of volcanic rock out in the middle of the Bering Sea is a particularly good place to do it.In the past few years, drool-worthy ABA Area rarities like Pine Bunting, Fork-tailed Swift, and an ABA [read more...]

                      Blog Birding #207

                      Perhaps no topic of discussion among ABA areas is more likely to turn birder against birder than the inclusion of Hawaii into the ABA Area. At Pittsburgh Birding Life, Aidan Place makes his case against adding Hawaii.

                      The most credible pro-Hawaii argument in my eyes, is that adding Hawaii would draw attention to the plight [read more...]

                      Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
                      If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
                      Read More »

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