Monday, June 6, 2011

Slightly Less Promiscuous: Felonious Jive Interrogated

Felonious flexes his good tallywacking arm after a season of raptor-counting. He hopes you know what tallywacking actually is.

The Human Birdwatcher Project is proud to bring you a long overdue interview on the trials and tribulations of birdwatchers. Felonious Jive, The Great Ornithologist, has been birding since adolescence and hasn't stopped since. For him, birding came before any current friends, a sex life, alcohol consumption, a sense of humor, or pretty much anything worthwhile about him. He is the son of an American who served in South Korea and the native Korean woman he meant there, making him what is probably the world's only birding product of the Korean War. His mixed blood (or "hybrid vigor", as he calls it) is thought to contribute to his bird powers. He has been called both "a narcissistic asshole" and "the last great hope for birdwatchers." This is the first time he has gone on record for The Human Birdwatcher Project, or anywhere else for that matter. The interview was conducted by one Seagull Steve.

Name and occupation please: 

Felonious Jive. Free-range ornithologist. Currently working on Piping Plover monitoring at Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota.

What was your favorite field job?

Honestly dude, being paid to take people birding is the best, especially if it’s just one or two people and they’re amiable. It’s freakish actually, getting paid well to just bird. Of course, there is no science involved and you’re doing it strictly for yourself...but it’s the shit man! Fuck, if I could do that full time that’s all I would do. But we must face reality, my friend. I’m not in a position to do that. I don’t have the connections. I don’t even like people. I’m a fucking bird person. Do you know what that means? I was driven to birds because of my rocky relationship with mankind. I’ve since made amends though. I love birds, and I love some people. But as a group, there’s no contest, it’s birds for me.

What were we talking about? Oh. Right. Midway Atoll is at the top of my list.

Describe your average birder for us. What do they think about? What do they talk about? What do they look like?

Birders. Jesus. Why did you have to open this can of worms? Look. As I said, most of them have problems, and that shit isn’t buried deep down inside. It’s plain as day. What do they think about? Well, birds. Obvi. The true-blue birder dwells on birds constantly. That’s all they want to talk about. Who saw what vagrant, what rare birds might show up this year, how Black-throated Sparrows or whatever are breeding more commonly in the county than usual. In this regard they are no different than die-hard sports fans. They live and breath shit that carries no importance whatsoever to the rest of the world.

Birders may look and dress a lot like biologists but unless they actually are biologists (not many are), most have a poor grasp of science. When they spout their theories about why birds are doing what they do, they inevitably leap to wild, baseless conclusions if they try to get very deep into any particular subject. They remind me of a sports announcer who has never actually played the game, trying to tell it like it is. Please!

Anyways. Yeah. Some say birding is a sport and I would have a hard time disagreeing with them.

A young Felonious Jive finds Jesus at Salvation Mountain.

Drugs and birding. Do they mix?

Depends on the drug. Not really for me. Some people are big proponents of this, though. I think I would just get too distracted and stop birding, which defeats the purpose of it all. I don’t even like birding after a beer. How can you trust your instincts when you are in an altered state? Call me a purist. I do find birding to be a great cure for hangovers, though.

Do you think it is possible to be a hardcore birder without being a nerd of the highest degree?

This is an old debate. I think, by definition, being a serious birder is incredibly, top-tier nerdy. It's up there with Trekkies, gamers, D&D kids...people who like math. You can’t escape it. The binoculars, the spotting scope, the cameras, the questionable fashion…baggy clothes…lots of pockets…khaki colors…those goddamn quick-dry pants….simply saying phrases such as “Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warbler” or “Philomachus pugnax” (that’s a Ruff, kids) or having a heated debate over the true identity of an Empidonax flycatcher with someone who is dressed just as bad as you are….it just reeks of nerdom. That said, and we’ve talked about this before, Seagull, there is a difference between nerds, geeks, and dorks. These days being a nerd can take you a long way. I can testify to this. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. It’s all about how you wear it. But make no mistake, a nerd who denies his or her true nature is a sad sight indeed.

On the other hand, there are actually do I put this? Some not obviously dysfunctional people out there who share the same love for birds as you and me. They are few and far between and should be treasured when you find them. They’re still nerds, you just might not know it immediately if you saw them at a bar or in a cafĂ©.

Felonious Jive conquers Buldir Island in the Western Aleutians. Northwest Point and offshore rocks loom in the distance.

What was your first experience interacting with other birdwatchers?

It was back in Ventura, California. I was 12. Various people took me under their wing, so to speak, and I learned my shit pretty fast. I’m deeply indebted to everyone down there for this. Also, since I was fucking 12, I didn’t really know who was completely bizarre and who wasn’t, so I treated most everyone the same. Now I know better, though.

Are you friends with other birders? What do you think of them?

Yeah. I know birders. I like ‘em. They’re almost like nonbirders sometimes…but when they try to tell me “Felonious, dude, birding is actually really cool” I know they’re completely fucking delusional. Birding is a lot of things, but cool is not one of them.

I don’t know Felonious. I’ve met some “cool” people who got turned on to birds. All kind of at the same time actually.

You’re full of shit Seagull. It’s an anomaly. A random trend. It will stop soon if it hasn’t already. Not that I’m against it, it’s just I can see it for what it really is. This won’t dissuade me from getting more bird tattoos though.

Huh. I have heard you described as "an intimidating hipster" before.

Or, we can accept the other hypothesis. Birding is cool, and it’s all because of me. A cultural revolution has taken place and you all have me to thank. Prove me wrong fuckers.

That’s very narcissistic of you. Do you have any mental problems? Demons to battle that would explain why you became a birder?

Yeah. I was the awkward kid. I had various social anxieties, was completely terrified of the opposite sex. I didn't have any real friends for some years. All this contributed to my desperate latching-on to birding. These aren’t problems any more. Girls even seem to like the birder thing. I couldn’t understand it for the longest time, but now it makes sense. Since I’m unabasashedly a birder at heart, and could give a fuck about what other people think about it, it comes off as a twisted sort of confidence. I never saw it coming, but shit, there it is. I’m comfortable with my (relative) uniqueness. Almost everyone is attracted to confidence on some level. Oh yeah, I’m really good at partying, that helps too.

You’re the man, Felonious.

Couldn’t do it without you, bro.

Your worst birding memory. Go.

Well……the first thing that comes to mind is that Ivory Gull in Arroyo Grande. Missed it by what, two hours or less? We even spent the night in town, tried the next morning…total bummer. Heartbreaking, really. You should have seen Dan, he was in tears, trying to dry his face on my shirt sleeve…what a mess. But I can relate. Who knows when I’ll see one of those things? They could go extinct!

Look, I’ve been in the game since 1994. A lot of shit has happened. The car accidents were pretty intense. Not that I was driving. But those were some close calls.

Why should people care about birds?

Dude, don’t ask me that.

Favorite place to bird? Why?

The Salton Sea has always been good to me. The diversity there is incredible. A lot of great memories from there and not a few traumas as well. Lots of lifers too. Of course it’s not quite what it used to be, but it’s still birdy. Salvation Mountain and Slab City make for a good time. Most birders will want to pick a place that has both quantity and quality of both bird numbers and bird diversity…I guess that’s mine.

If you had to be predated upon by a particular species, what would it be?

A gigantic Anhinga. Why do you think I could care less about swimming? Have you seen an Anhinga in the water??? Those things scare the shit out of me.

Felonious Jive. Look at him. He disgusts me.

It is well known that you have had intercourse with several birdwatchers. Few people in the world have had the honor. What was that like?

Surprisingly, it’s a similar experience to copulating with nonbirders…it can be all sorts of things. I would say no better or worse than normal. Birder females tend to be slightly less promiscuous than the average lady, but...actually, scratch that. Not true. They nasty.

Do you have a Spirit Bird?

No. I’ve been told it’s a Masked Booby but I’ve seen a number of them and it’s clearly not true. I don't think the person who decided that has even seen one. I know a girl who is a Red-footed Booby though. You know, I just got Groove-billed Ani as a lifer earlier this year and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a connection of sorts. They're bizarre-looking, shaggy and dirty but they've got some magic going on, somehow.

Who is your favorite birder?

Seagull Steve. My blood brother.

Youre my bro, bro.

Yeah bro, totes.

The future of birding. What is it?

That depends on the birds. They are disappearing, and its not happening slowly. If we are going to keep birding we, as birders, need to take a more active role in bird conservation. This will turn off all the lazy, apolitical assholes out there but it’s the truth. Not that I’m any sort of conservation champion, but at least working in bird monitoring and research I don’t have as much guilt as I do in other arenas.

Speaking strictly for those of us in the United States, we need to keep politicians out of office who are clearly in favor of development, “natural resource extraction” and tying up the endangered species act and EPA. That’s almost all Republicans and a not insignificant number of Democrats too. Be aware of the conservation issues in your state. Consume less, reuse more, recycle if you need to, cut most meat out of your diet, drive less yadda yadda yadda. The more shit you use, the less birds there are, its fucking simple. I can go on forever, Seagull.

Felonious. Why so serious?

Well, excuse me asshole! A guy can’t keep it real for a minute? Ok. What you want to hear is this: Obviously, drug abuse will soon run rampant among the serious birders. It's already started. You know, drugs that can focus people’s attention, heighten their energy. Once birders get onto that shit and happen to find a rare bird or two, it's all over. They will associate one with the other and its nothing but Ritalin, Adderall, and probably pure, uncut speed from here on out. Birders will begin going to Columbia for completely different reasons. Watch the movie Rare Bird if you don't think there is a birder-cocaine connection. So I see a lot of drug abuse coming down the pipe. After that, who knows? Steroids seem pretty popular…that could bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “power-birder”.

This will complicate the whole listing thing. There's been a lot of talk about steroid-using baseball players getting an asterisk if they are admitted in the hall of fame...organizations like the American Birding Association will have the same thing.

Weird. Thanks for speaking with us Felonious. The readers of BB&B will surely be much better informed on the ins and outs of birding now, and may have a strange desire for half-Korean men coated with oil. I don't blame them. Any last words?

Yeah. You people have terrible taste in music. Fucking hippies.


  1. So much material but one thing that FJ said struck me that I never thought about.

    Most birders are not biologists?

    I guess because I am a card-carrying biologist (WAY more than birder, pretty crap birder tho' I think they're awesome and occasionally get paid (Ha!) to monitor-or-whatever them) I sort of assume everyone else I interact with in that nerdy venue has the same background as I. But, clearly, I don't hang out with birders much (except the biologist co-workers I have, some of whom are KICK ass birders/borderline-ornithologist) or talk to them much.

    Mostly if birding with strangers I listen lots (despite babbler tendencies I really wanna learn when with good birders) and ask questions vs. converse about their background.

    Years ago chatting with my former-professor whom I ran into 'cause he was birding at my park where I was a Park Ranger chick, we talked about bird nerdery. I said when I first worked at that park, I'd see the power birders (including twin ladies of a certain age who'd bus to the park and wore the same clothes) and think Wow, SOOOO geeky. And then after I "discovered" birding (through required shorebird monitoring so I "had" to) I thought crap, all that time I mentally made fun I could have been seeing awesome birds here. He smiled and said he'd gone through the same thing. He was by then a former Audubon president in San Diego.

    That's when I learned of the beauty of power nerdery. The THING you are into is the focus, not you, so your world expands as does your appreciation (I assume) for the planet. I think that's good. I'd prefer people didn't consume insane amounts of carbon to do so, but I like that the focus is not (at least officially) one's self/blindly consuming resources as fast as possible.

  2. You're nuts.

    I've never thought about popping an adderall and going birding, but it sounds interesting. Hmm.

    As for birding being cool, it's not. The boys don't seem to like it when I say I'm going home at 10 so I can get up early to look for warblers. It's just not hot.

  3. @Jen - Boys don't ever think getting up early is hot. Staying up all night on adderall and then going to look at warblers is a different story entirely.

    @BB - Ah, you have come full circle, and gained much wisdom indeed. You should start a blog or something (wink wink nudge nudge). I love the matching twin birder outfits! Hilarious.

  4. "I was driven to birds because of my rocky relationship with mankind" = priceless!