Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I Went for a Walk

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On Sunday late afternoon I went for a walk by myself. I'd been on a five-mile hike earlier in the day with Julie and two old friends visiting from central Ohio. The morning hike was birdy and fun: ceruleans and rose-breasts, dogs splashing in the creek. This evening walk (not hike) was just to decompress.

Taking a walk works for me.

I'm not someone who naturally finds time to relax. In fact, I need to make myself take some downtime every so often. The normal mode for me, it seems, has always been go-go-go. I see something that needs to be done and I move to take care of it.

While doing so I uncover or discover several other things needing some attention and move to them. Pretty soon a day is used up and gone. Never to return. Some days I feel a sense of accomplishment—"I got a lot done today!" Other days I'm frustrated at the lack of a measured, linear progression. Those are the days when I feel like a hummingbird flitting from blossom to flower, never staying long in one place, never perching to rest, burning up all the fuel I take in just to keep on flying and eating.

That seems like an expensive, not very centered, way to live.

Adding to my need to find a bit of peace on a meandering walk is the ever-present bombardment of news, social media, email, text messages, push notifications, phone calls. It's head-in-a-blender maddening. Makes me want to find a cave somewhere and pull the boulder over the entrance. I keep looking on Air BnB for a furnished cave but have yet to find one.

I've never been much of a self-help-book reader. A chapter or two and my mind drifts away from the author's arc, no matter how deep and poetic. I mark my place with the best of intentions, close the book's covers (which are usually laden with praise-y blurbs from other self-help peddlars) and almost never return to discover the as-yet-unread pearls of wisdom.
Nope. A walk is what helps me. And a good night's sleep, which is something that is helped by a walk. Breathing deeply on the walk also helps me.

And not watching a gory episode of "Game of Thrones." That reduces the nocturnal teeth-grinding in general. Which leads to better sleep and fewer crowns—though not the Game-of-Thrones kind of crowns. The dental kind. [Hey! Look! I used "dental" and "kind" in a sentence fragment!]

Music also helps a lot, but that's the subject for another blog post. Just saying "another blog post" opens the stopcock on a small drip-feed of guilt for not keeping this blog going. I could make excuses, but who'd buy them? The honest answer is: I was busy going too fast in some other direction and I forgot. Blogs are like walks: it takes time to do them right.

Let's hope it's not too late. After all, it's later than we think.

But first, let's talk a walk...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

River of Birds in the Sky, Part 2

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bird migration is starting all around the world. This year I'm migrating myself—over to the Middle East to take part in Champions of the Flyway in Eilat, Israel. Teams of birders are competing to raise money to help BirdLife International stop the illegal killing of migrant birds along the Mediterranean/Black Sea flyway.

This year the funds we raise will be going to the Hellenic Ornithological Society, the BirdLife partner in Greece.
Hellenic Ornithological Society team members.

The 2016 Champions teams have already raised more than the original goal of $50,000, but now we're trying to see how much we can raise.

The Way-Off Coursers official logo.

You can learn all about this event, the teams, the causes, and so on, on the Champions website.

At this moment, I am sitting in the Turkish Airlines area of JFK airport, preparing to fly to Israel by way of Istanbul, for the start of the week of activities for Champions of the Flyway. From here on out, most of my communications on the event will likely be via social media. You can follow the hashtag #COTF2016 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can see updates on my social media channels and on those of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Let me leave you with the lyrics I wrote for this year's Champions event, "River of Birds in the Sky." You can hear the recording of the song and watch the video we made, on the Champions site, and on the BWD YouTube channel.

Thanks to those of you who supported our team (or another Champions team) this year. it's not too late to become a Champions yourself by contributing directly, or by buying an official shirt from our Champions team, the Way-Off Coursers, sponsored by Bird Watcher's Digest and Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.

River of Birds in the Sky
(for Champions of the Flyway)

Verse 1.
For 10,000 years and more it’s been flowing this river of birds in the sky
Generations of people have watched it in awe and it still brings a tear to my eye

V 2.
Flying south in the fall and back north in the spring these millions must move to survive
Perils and dangers upon every side it’s a wonder any make it alive

There are some with traps and guns who wait along the way
Birds are passing   the guns are blasting                     it’s such a crying shame

V 3.
Drawn by the seasons’ irresistible call           migrating from East and West
Some fly by day and others at night,              but all run this gauntlet of death

Birds flying free know no borders, you see.   No one can claim them alone
This great migration over dozens of nations   Let’s help them safely get home

Flying so free, soaring high                 A river of birds in the sky
We can help them you and I               the river of birds in the sky

V 6.
These senseless traditions, like many before, must soon go the way of all things
We’re the Champions of the Flyway my friend and our hope it is carried on wings

A silent spring—what an awful thing—but what can one person do?
You can become a Champion, we’re all counting on you

Flying so free, soaring high                 A river of birds in the sky
We can help them you and I               the river of birds in the sky
Flying so free, soaring high                 Millions of birds in the sky
Still brings a tear to my eye                A river of birds in the sky

   Bill Thompson III, Whipple, Ohio, November 2015

Saturday, February 6, 2016

River of Birds in the Sky

Saturday, February 6, 2016

European turtle-doves are shot by the thousands annually in Greece.
Did you know that an estimated 20 million birds are killed each year while migrating along the Mediterranean-Black Sea flyway? These birds are not dying of natural causes. They are shot, trapped, netted, and captured by glue smeared onto branches. This devastating "harvest" of wild birds is done by people in the name of tradition. Birds are shot for sport. They are netted and lured into traps for local markets where they are sold as food considered by some to be a delicacy.
A European bee-eater trapped in a net.
Black kites in migration.

An illegal shooting blind in Greece. ©Hellenic Ornithological Society.

I'm sure you're as horrified as I am to learn this. But you may also be thinking "Those people way over there in the Mediterranean region are nuts! That would never happen here in the U.S!"

The Mediterranean flyway connects Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa. ©BirdLife International

And, you'd be wrong.

Humans have always had a love-hate relationship with birds—especially with birds that occur is such large concentrations that there seems to be a never-ending supply. Think passenger pigeon. What was once the most numerous species on the planet was reduced—from billions to none—in the span of a single human generation.
Dead hawks shot along the Kittatinny Ridge near Hawk Mountain. ©Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
Men with shotguns used to line the Kittatinny Ridge in eastern Pennsylvania just to shoot the passing hawks in the fall. They'd shoot so many of these "vermin" that they'd pose proudly standing next to a pile of carcasses. It used to happen in Cape May, too, during fall migration. And elsewhere, I'm sure. Anywhere there were large concentrations of birds you'd have somebody there with guns, having themselves a good old time.

Those days are gone now, here in North America. But they still are alive and well in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and even in France and Italy, where this repulsive tradition continues. I'm not talking about legitimate hunting here. I'm talking about people shooting hawks and storks and cranes and cuckoos and lapwings and nightjars—simply for the heck of it. It's illegal, yet local authorities often turn a blind eye or cite their lack of jurisdiction on private property.
White-eared bulbul.

There have been a number of campaigns against this illegal killing. One I've recently become involved in was started by my friends Jonathan Meyrav and Dan Alon of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), with assistance from BirdLife International. 

Israel sits at the bottleneck of the migration route between Eurasia and Africa, which makes it a world-class birding hotspot. And while none of the shooting or trapping happens in Israel, it does in many of the other countries along the flyway.

Jonathan and his colleagues at SPNI came up with the idea of a birding competition during spring migration in Eilat, Israel's southernmost city. They called it Champions of the Flyway and invited teams from all over the world to come to compete for a number of prize categories. You can learn all about the Champions of the Flyway here on the event website.
Teams scouting for the 2014 Champions race.

Most importantly, the Champions event was designed to raise money through online donations and corporate sponsorship, all of which goes to a single BirdLife partner along the flyway each year for use in the battle against the illegal killing of wild birds. In 2014, the money went to the Bird Conservation Georgia in the former Soviet republic. In 2015, the cause was BirdLife Cyprus. And in 2016, it's the BirdLife partner in Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society.

I took a team over to the inaugural Champions event in Eilat in 2014 and had a great time. Our team, the Way-off Coursers, raised more than $3,000 for the conservation fund.
The BWD Champions Team in 2014: George Armistead, Michael O'Brien, yours truly, and Ben Lizdas (behind the camera).
 I missed the 2015 event. But when my good friend Jonathan Meyrav asked me to write a song for this year's Champions of the Flyway, I couldn't say no.

After a lot of writing and a bit of cogitating, a song began to take shape. The result is "River of Birds in the Sky," an  anthem for the birds and for their Champions. I recorded the song with my band, The Rain Crows, and with the help of some special birder-musician friends—in fact everyone who helped record the song is a birder! I am incredibly pleased with the song and the video we put together to accompany it. Here's the video and song.

So the Way-off Coursers are back, and we're truly honored and excited about participating in this year's Champions of the Flyway competition. We've decided to do a Big Sit in Eilat's famous birdwatching park. We're going to conserve resources (ours included) and let the birds come to us.

If you'd like to help us reach our goal to raise $5,000 to help stop illegal killing along the Mediterranean flyway, please visit our team page on the Champions website. 

You can watch the video and listen to the song for free right here. Or, on the Bird Watcher's Digest website, you can purchase an mp3 download of "River of Birds in the Sky" for just 99 cents. Every penny we raise will go directly to the Champions conservation fund. This year's Champions conservation cause is aimed at stopping the illegal killing of birds in Greece, working with the BirdLife partner there, the Hellenic Ornithological Society.

You can follow along during our Big Sit on Twitter (@billofthebirds, @bwdmag, @flywaychampions, #COTF2016, #riverofbirds) and Facebook. We'll appreciate any sharing you can do and any contribution you can make. 

After all, we're all in it to help the birds.

Peace, love, and a river of birds in the sky.