Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Drown in the soup, in the froth, resurrect": Song of The Setubal

Tomásbirder, surfer, lurker, intertidal scavenger, globetrotter, fungiphile, gourmand, Ween scholar, radio personality.... Attempting to put this man in a box is like trying to put Baby in the corner...nobody puts Tommy in a box. Nobody.

We caught up with TVS at the Coastal Ecology Lab on the shores of Lac Croissant in Olympic National Park, where he was busy installing a new idler shaft on his rock tumbler. 

BB&B: Sorry to interrupt the shaft work. Please state your name/occupation.

TVS: Tomás Vellutini Setubal/ambulant field scribe and lake visitor.

You are currently dating the educational director of the local Audubon chapter. Did you initially start birding to pick up on women?

No. Birding for me has mostly been a solitary venture, carried out most fervently in periods of emotional distress and crippling heartache. Akin to songwriting for musicians. Which I guess eventually gets them laid.

I see. Your Wikipedia page says you grew up in Brazil. What is the national bird of Brazil? 

Growing up, the Hyacinth Macaw was always talked about there, Arara Azul… an unbelievably blue macaw. Hardcore pet trade victim at one point, and thus a flag-bearer of the conservation movement in Brazil. But I think the national bird is the Rufous-bellied Thrush, the sabiá. Robin-like birdie.The true rockstars of the commons are the Rufous Hornero, a master engineer of cozy cob houses, and the Great Kiskadee, bloodthirsty insect slayer.

Describe what the average birder is to you. What do they look like? What do they think about? Does the average birder vary between countries? What does the Brazilian birder look like? 

Everyone knows the average birder here in the States. A Methuselah-aged seemingly innocent chatty pair of spectacles, unabashed model of the lamest outerwear possible, and proudly anachronistic except for when it comes to tools and technologies that aid in birding. They are white, they are wealthy, and they unanimously exude a deep concern for the state of their feathered brethren, sometimes more so than that of their human brethren. Common as fuk. Boring? Some say so. There’s a school of thought that encourages us to see the beauty in even the most common birders, and I’ve been trying to adhere to that.

Average birders in Brazil belong to a totally distinct class. They are younger, maybe in their forties, but also white and relatively wealthy, therefore far fewer in numbers. They’ve adopted a very European hobby, and must live through ten times the scrutiny of wearing their elitism around their neck or shoulder-strap. Some revel in that uncomfortable reality though, which plagues some areas of Brazilian birding with excessive dick-measuring contests of ocular gear. Because of the gear-centric approach, photography has a much more pronounced weight in birding, and mere accounts or lists may not be taken so seriously. They want photos badly, “registros” or records as they are commonly referred to will really weigh out your “birding” skills. They also wear lame clothing and travel far for bird sightings.

What is the best bird band name out there?

‘King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’ and ‘Cock Sparrer’ come to mind. A stretch? Maybe. Just picture King Gizzard though, the daemonic vulture overlord, and his sorcerous slithering crony. I love it. Both great bands. How about worst bird band name? The Byrds.

Agreed. Pelican is another great band/name. Simple, powerful, big sound. What is the best bird band name that ISN'T out there?

The Cloacas.
Oops nevermind, just googled it, the cloacas are out there shredding. Spitting out impeccable musical guano. Add The Cloacas to the answer above.

How about the Bohemian Waxwings? Seems like an obvious band name. A little hoity-toity perhaps.
I always wanted to start a band called the Chordates. How inclusive is that? Come on feathered ones, titty-suckers, all you herps, fishies, slimy tunicates, brainless branchiostomas, you belong here!

Oh, I get it! And play only power chordates, right? Ugh. Do surfing and birding have anything in common? 

Certainly, both are tiresome attempts at removing oneself from the tungsten, from the neon, from the halogen, from the inescapable humdrum of our anthropocentric existence. This endeavor is of course a fallacy, and thus the birder and the surfer are both fools. Fools fueled by a blind desire to somehow capture a sliver of the overwhelming energy that pulsates throughout this planet independently of our existence. The natural, the holy, the non-human, the earthly, the godly, the divine; all horrible words to describe these slivers that we attempt to find, see, hear, weep from such beauty, write down on our stupid lists, drop in, go up, go down, slash (yeah 
right), get barreled (uh-huh), drown in the soup, in the froth, resurrect, and do it again, over and over.

If you were to only watch Surfbirds (surfbirding?) would that be a close proxy to surfing?

Surfbirds are kooksPelicans on the other hand…

Drugs and birding. Do they mix?

My most meaningful owl encounters have happened while under the spell of some drug. It must draw them in. So yes, absolutely. Songbirding on the other hand is a purifying, sobering experience for me, the antivenin to debauchery. So, both? Day birding vs night birding? How cliché.

Drugs and surfing. Bad idea?

On small days, “wave-enhancement” is a term often used to describe certain substance abuse.

What are your favorite places to bird and why?

Riparian birding is the best. Floating down a river, ever done that? I used to do float surveys on the Trinity River, counting hordes of angry Black Phoebes, flushing Green Heron mothers away from their young. It’s a surreal experience, like birding on a conveyor belt.

Also dig birding in urban parks, seeing who’s braving the oases in the concrete.

I'm hip to the Float and Bird, yes. Makes me thirsty just thinking about it. If you could only have 3 birds and 3 books on a desert island, what would they be?

Books and birds. I see. You want emotional value, rather than utilitarian. Here you go, there’s some mystical connection to each:
1)     House Wren. East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
2)     Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell.
3)     Yellow-breasted Chat. Tintin in Tibet by Hergé


RED-EYED VIREO. Dope migration pattern!

Favorite tasting bird?

Guineafowl, no doubt. Beautiful bird, love their calls, and they are simply the tastiest.

Yum. Let's stay in this vein. If you could eat any bird, guilt-free, no judgement, what would it be? How would you prepare it? With fruits/vegetation from the birds preferred habitat?

I would have a platter of deep-fried Bushtits. Dip ‘em in thimbleberry ranch. Damn.

Damn. DAMN. 

And thus another installment of the Human Birdwatcher Project's highly-acclaimed interview series is shelved. Remember...birders are people too! Some of them anyway. Hopefully our continual quest of understanding the Birdwatcher in all its myriad forms has been enhanced. Thanks to TVS for taking time away from his Eternal Search for the Barrel of Immortality to share some wisdom with BB&B.


  1. You invented this guy. He cannot be real.

    1. I've never met him, but I'm glad he's out there.