Like a sleeping giant, the subcultural behemoth known as The Human Birdwatcher Project rears it's hideous and oversized head once again. In our continuing quest to understand birdwatchers ("Birders are people too!"), today we turn to one Cass Grattan, who some believe to be the sole voice of Truth in the darkness of the confused and crowded birding community. As of today, Cass is moonlighting on a bird project on California's Santa Cruz Island. He has successfully mated with someone who has previously confessed it all to HBP, and spends his time nursing his brood, birding Washignton's Olympic Peninsula with Coco, and staring at various undersea invertebrates. All invertebral photos by Cass.
What do you go by sir? And what is your occupation?
Cassidy "Family Man" Grattan...failed Bohemian.
We met, of all places, on a bird job, and we've had many before and since. What was your favorite field job?
Hmmm...so many wonderful and pointless projects I've helped degrade. The time I worked with the venerable Felonious Jive in the agricultural swamps of the Imperial Valley shines in my memory. Surveying for Black-backed Woodpeckers in the charred moonscapes of northwest Montana, amidst the eyeball high fireweed, wolf turds, and the occasional hawk owl...I'm getting goosebumps, so that must be the right answer.
How did your avian addiction set in?
Like so many other users, mine was a slow and relatively gradual problem that eventually consumed everything in my life, destroyed my relationships with my loved ones and left me with nothing in this world. I wasn't like the boy-prodigy birder who at age 7 was trained by my mystical grandmother who had claimed to have made out with Roger Tory Peterson back in the 30's. I started watching birds in seriousness in college, when I discovered you could make money doing it...a truly revolutionary concept. Previously, I had thought that if you wanted to work outside you had to be, you know, like a lifeguard or sharecropper.
Describe your average birder for us. What do they think about? What do they talk about? What do they look like?
Average birder...hmm...right now we are roosting in Northwestern Washington, near a sort of nightmarish retirement community. So a lot of the birders are ancient, decrepit things with really expensive gear who have trouble finding the sky, let alone a Hutton's Vireo flitting around in a small shrub. In contrast, we went birding just north of Olympia a little while ago at Nisqually NWR and there were all these young, "groovy" kids from Evergreen State College (home of the Geoducks, pronounced "gooey duck", a horrifyingly large bivalve), drinking herbal tea out of mason jars and walking around in tattered homemade clothes...also having difficulty locating the sky. So if you were to try and average these two varietals of birder, I think you would come up with an extremely bizarre, inaccurate, and painfully boring animal.
Drugs and birding. Do they mix?
Drugs and birding. A really tough one. Drugs seem to go well with everything, so why not birding? A friend of mine refers to the mixing as "chemical birding", which is fun to say. He claims that watching a Merlin take a bath whilst under the spell of mushrooms was an emotional, healing event in his life. Who can argue with such a powerful and sappy account?! A lot of birders seem to have a "sixth sense" when it comes to finding birds. No doubt booze, weed, and paint fumes might enhance one's extrasensory capabilities. I've seen you, Seagull, disappear into the dark, your veins coursing with Gentleman Jack, somehow finding an Elf Owl family in a distant oak draw. Of course, we all nearly burned ourselves alive later that evening...
Do you think it is possible to be a hardcore birder without being a nerd of the highest degree?
The two are forever linked...only until The One returns and restores order and justice to the realm, hardcore birders will always be doomed to the shameful and lowly status of Nerd. Let it be known throughout the kingdom...
What is your first experience interacting with other birdwatchers?
The first birder I hung out with was an older drunk whom I knew through my parents. He is dry now and interestingly, not as into birds anymore. Is there a connection? He taught me that juncos sound like telephones ringing and wear Darth Vader helmets. This was my first lesson in bird ID and I haven't forgotten it, though I've come to realize that more than juncos wear Darth Vader helmets and sound like telephones.
Are you friends with other birders? What do you think of them?
I have many birder friends, few of whom I actually enjoy being around. They are generally a cutthroat bunch, or really boring people, even when you are birding with them. Passive aggressiveness is rampant among them. They take grudges to the grave and possibly beyond. I find botanists to be a much more gentle and harmless demographic. Lichenologists are for some reason very witty, and often handsome. I don't know how to explain this.
On that ominous note, we will be posting Part II next week. In the meantime, you can look forward to more of the beautiful awfulness that you've come to expect at BB&B. See you soon. - The Editor.