What's your SparkBird?

Welcome to the inaugural blog post for KingBirder! We are interested in learning more about your personal stories related to your passion around birds and bird photography. Today we are discussing one’s “spark bird”. Some of you may not be familiar with this term. A “spark bird” refers to the original bird that “sparked” your curiosity and interest in our feathered friends. For some of us, this event may have occurred early in our lives or for others it may have been much later. And for a few, perhaps their spark bird has not yet made an appearance. (If that is the case, I hope it arrives soon!)

For me, my spark bird occurred at a very young age, around three or four years old. My grandmother owned an 18th century farmhouse along with 32 acres of land in Sag Harbor, NY. The land consisted of five or six acres of open fields, brackish ponds, salt marshes, and upland woods with mostly oaks and red cedars. It was my favorite place in the world.

spark bird

Wildlife abounded on the property, especially the birdlife. It is here that I began to appreciate nature and variety that it brings. I had the biggest playground around, exploring the woods and marshes. Grandma had several feeders and birdbaths close to the house. They attracted many species including; blue jays, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, American goldfinches, house finches, brown thrashers, catbirds, eastern towhees, song sparrows, white-throated sparrows, and dark-eyed juncos. Entire coveys of northern bobwhites would warily approach the feeders. Even mallards would come up from the salt pond to scoop up the cracked corn scattered on the ground. But there was one bird that stood out among all the others, the ring-necked pheasant!

Every morning I would rise early, around 6:30am, to meet Grandma in the kitchen. While she prepared breakfast, I would eagerly anticipate the arrival of the male pheasant. It almost felt like Christmas morning every day. On the days when the pheasant did appear, I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe. It was so much larger than the other birds and its intricate patterns of feathers were dazzling. Some days the female would accompany him and that made it even more special. At that point I was hooked! Grandma stoked my interest by providing me with my very first Peterson’s field guide at age six. I must have read it cover-to-cover a thousand times. As I look back, I am very grateful to both my grandmother and the ring-necked pheasant for providing me with a passion I have enjoyed for virtually my entire life!

What’s your “spark bird”? Tell us by submitting a comment below.

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January 31, 2020
Feathers and Flight has submitted a blog entry, thank you for your contribution!

Location: Nova Scotia, Canada

I must first explain that my relationship with birds started on the wrong foot. I was in my last year at university and had been conditionally accepted to medical school. All I had to do was maintain my GPA during the last semester and I was officially admitted. I decided that I deserved a "bird course" after 3 1/2 years of physics, biology, chemistry classes and labs and chose "Ornithology 101". I thought it would be an easy A , after all I knew what a blue jay, cardinal, chickadee and eagle looked like. It did not take long to realize that I had seriously misjudged the course. How was I to know that there were so many gulls, so many sparrows and so many different plumages for each year of growth? Hatch year, nictitating membrane, first moult were all foreign words to me. I was a terrible birder and could not tell the difference between various species of gulls and sparrows and LBJ's. My midterm exam earned me a C+. I was horrified and ended up working my butt off to do better in the finals. I scrapped by with a B-, my lowest mark ever. Birds and birding were not for me. Fast forward 25 years to Tanzania, on safari with my family : I was focused on photographing the Big Five and never gave a thought about the birds. All that changed while eating lunch at a small park. A lilac-breated roller landed on a branch 5 feet away from me. I was taken aback by his beauty and managed to get some really nice images of him. In fact, that picture was my favorite of the entire trip and years later a beautiful print of the LBR is still on display in our home. When we returned home, I googled the term "bird photography". I was overwhelmed by what I saw and learned. I was hooked and now 8 years later, I can tell the differences between some sparrows and some gulls! I will always be a better photographer than birder. And that's OK because I love what I am doing and that deserves an A+.


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