Friday, August 31, 2012

The Whimbrel: A Tale of Madness


The best accounts are firmly grounded in a sense of place, and tales of the unhinged are often even more tightly focused, to one claustrophobic and dreary area, a prisoner's dungeon or madwoman's attic; a basement with rat-infested walls or a bedroom with cloying yellow wallpaper.

This tale is no different, although our location is perhaps a bit airier than usual. Still, the wretched summer heat has made it seem most oppressive: an expanse of mudflats along Lake Decatur. As the summer's heat and lack of rain has stretched most pitilessly onward, the water has shrunk back ever more each passing day, creating a mosaic of dry, cracked mud and shallow, stinking water.

And to these mudflats the shorebirds teem. At first our Birder stumbled upon them, almost by happenstance, and stood amazed at the sheer multitude and variety before her. It began innocently enough, with black terns.

The Birder, taking a furtive look at the local bird sightings whilst at work, noticed that black terns had been seen a mere five minutes' drive down the road, and waited impatiently for the work day to be over, that she might travel hence and behold them with her own eyes.

And thus it was, with an ease that was surely deceptive, for in the Birder's experience, the accomplishment of a Life Bird is rarely so simple. The terns flitted over the water with a faerie's grace, so swift and shimmering in the twilight that they seemed to be more like sprites of the air.

And so the Birder returned, day after day, to the Mud Flats, lugging her spotting scope from place to place in the heat of early afternoon, and stumbling upon two more Life Birds in the process: the Baird's sandpiper and the sanderling. Perhaps this was too heady a mix for the Birder, like the first taste of laudanum for the opium-eater, but it seemed an innocent enough diversion, and after a week or so of perusing sandpipers, the Birder's interest was starting to wane, and taking an extra day off from work, the Birder swore to stay far distant from the odious traffic and bustle of the city, and instead stroll the woods and dells closer to home.

The birder had had enough of this:


And preferred instead to search for this:


Until the morning of the aforesaid Day Off, when the Birder checked the alerts of new bird sightings, and saw with horror and anticipation that a Whimbrel had been sighted at the Lake. Anticipation at the prospect of beholding such a splendid rarity as a Whimbrel, but horror at the likelihood--nay, the blind necessity!--of a superfluous trip to Decatur. For a Life Bird as such, would one not willing travel twice, or even thrice as far, and through worse obstacles than the city traffic?

Valiantly, the Birder struggled to remain strong and keep to the original plan, but the lust for the Whimbrel overcame reason, and soon she found herself driving past the vile and stinking corn syrup factory, surrounded by the shaking and rumbling of a dozen trucks, passing the very door of her work place, in search of the bird.

And it was not to be found. The sun was rising closer to its zenith, the air above the mudflats beginning to quiver with reflected heat. Pelicans there were, and cormorants in the distance, and great egrets dotted the lake like a host of phantoms.


Alas, thought the Birder, the quarry has flown, and my trip was in vain. But no matter, other worthy birds are surely in the area. And off she went, to enjoy some passerines in the nearby forest.

And then, like the tolling of an infernal clock, came the report: that very day, the Whimbrel had been seen again! So close, and yet the target had slipped away. This was an affront! The Birder felt toyed with, even betrayed. If only the Whimbrel would tarry one day further!

So the day after that, during the Lunch Half Hour, the birder scoffed at food to scan the lake again. It was drier than ever, the peeps scattered and desultory. A further late afternoon trip confirmed it; through the worst of luck, somehow she had missed the bird again, but with the water now so low and sluggish, surely it had flown for good.

But no! Still more reports came in. The Whimbrel had been sighted again...and yet again! Morning and evening, others were beholding it, adding it to their lists, enriching themselves from the sight of it, while our Birder did without. And she not five miles down the road for most of that time.

A cruel night she passed, tossing and groaning with reproaches. Sleep came fitfully, and when it did, visions of large sandpipers with long, decurved bills flew through each dream. Oh, accursed Whimbrel! Oh, wretched Birder!

There was nothing left to be done. On Thursday, after nearly a full week of infamy, the Birder did the unthinkable: she rose before dawn and drove off to the city a full hour in advance.

The boat ramp attained, she set up her scope, and scanned the lake yet again. And finally, there it was...on the far bank across the water, creeping along with its huge downward curving bill plunging at the water, the bird was seen. But, villainous Whimbrel! To be so clearly in the view of the spotting scope, and yet so far out of reach of the camera!

Still...a Life Bird is a Life Bird! And so this tale of madness pulls back from the brink, to provide the reader with a happy ending.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Parallel worlds (and the 200th Year Bird!)

Rene Magritte, "Deep Waters"

Over the weekend, I surprised both Greenturtle and myself by getting totally immersed in a book that he checked out from the library, Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner (2003: Random House), the saga of two gamer geeks, John Carmack and John Romero, who achieved fame and fortune by programming ultra-violent computer games like Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and Quake, and then somehow let their successful partnership fall apart.

This choice of reading material was surprising because I don't like violent computer games. To be honest, with the exception of Masters of Orion II and computer Scrabble, I don't really like any computer games. It's not that I have a particular objection to them, but as I've told Greenturtle, given that there are only so many hours in a day, I'd rather spend my hours doing "real" things: birding, knitting, blogging, cross-stitch, cooking, walking my dogs, pulling weeds from the garden. I don't even watch a lot of TV, unless I'm "multi-tasking" with knitting needles or crochet hook in hand. To me, gaming just seems like...well, don't take this the wrong way...a waste of time.

And yet, as I read the book, I could really sympathize with the "two Johns." Both were childhood misfits---out of sorts with their families, their schools, and society at large---who found a place of refuge: computer games. (Romero was more the "gamer" and Carmack more of a programmer, but for the purposes of this blog, we can just call it "computer games.") Neither was initially encouraged in this pursuit -- Romero was beaten by his step-father for sneaking off to the arcades; Carmack's disapproving mother thought he needed to go to college and work for IBM if that's what he liked (instead, he did a stint in a juvenile detention facility) -- but by staying true to themselves, they not only achieved their dream, but became millionaires in the process. (The Horatio Alger-style fantasy later collapses in a bout of egotism and in-fighting, alas.)

Although I don't play the games myself, the references were familiar to me, since Greenturtle loves to play games, and I have not only caught glimpses of different games over his shoulder, but have seen the phenomenon first-hand: he can turn on that computer and only emerge hours or a full weekend later.... The book described it as being "immersed" in another world, managing, for the space of several hours, to completely "escape" to somewhere else. The genius of the "two Johns" was creating games that allowed players to feel that they had truly "escaped" the mundane world and entered a different one.

I suspect that this aspect is one of the major reasons, even more so than the violent content, that people have objected to gaming (and fantasy novels for young people). In the interest of circumventing a rant, let me just state that the distrust of the imagination runs deep, and recommend an essay by science fiction novelist Ursula K. LeGuin, "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?", for more insights on the topic.

So what does any of this have to do with birding? Well, because I could relate to the "two Johns" for a large part because one obsession looks a lot like another. A repeated topic on this blog has been an exploration of why "hard core" birders bird the way we do. Why do some birders turn into "listers," people who (as their detractors like to put it) reduce birds to a check mark on their life list? What flip is switched in the mind of the person who goes from being a backyard bird-watcher or casual enthusiast to someone who wants to do a Big Year?

Now, I have neither the time nor the resources to do a big year (even on the state level, alas), but as someone who will freely admit to being obsessed with birds, I think I might have a bit of insight on this topic. We, or at least I, do it for the escape. For the complete immersion in a different world. And, yeah, for the competition. Because it's not only fun, it's better than anything else that life as I've experienced it (work and bills and obligations) has to offer. And you know what? That sounds an awful lot like the gamer geeks. (Except, of course, that birds are real!)

This was something I thought about for a while as I surveyed the mud flats and strolled the parks of Macon County, IL in search of "year birds." Due to a succession of poor career choices, I have been rather unsatisfied with my day to day life for the past few years. Unfortunately, with our crappy economy and my limited finances, sometimes I despair of finding a better solution. So in one respect, the past few years have been full of unremitting dissatisfaction and unhappiness, stress and crabbiness.

But this has also been the time that I've really immersed myself in birding. And the birding has been great!

I'm just not the kind of person who can share my personal woes, but suffice to say, as my "professional" life got worse, I declared my Ultimate Birding Year, and for the first time ever, have been actively pursuing species for the "list," (life, state and year respectively...there's a whole internal rule-book I've created to determine where I go), and you know what?

This has been my best year ever! I can't remember ever enjoying myself so much, and my Bird Journal has nothing but happy recollections. I mean, there was the time I saw the snowy owl in Chicago! And the surf scoter at the gull fest! The Wilson's phalarope at Emiquon! Or the total surprises, that weren't even new to any of my "lists" but still resound in my memory: the scarlet tanager singing as I did the 10-mile-loop at the North Fork Trail along Clinton Lake; the northern parulas on the backpack trail at Weldon Springs.

The bobolinks! The lark sparrows! The blue-winged warbler at Friends Creek in the middle of August...who would have thought to see one there?

Or how about today? My second view ever of black terns, only this time seen in the sunlight, dipping and soaring over the mudflats. Then a long walk at Rock Springs, and I got year bird number 199, the yellow-throated vireo, and 200, the pine warbler! The first time I have ever hit 200 birds on my year list; my goal for 2012 just got upgraded to 225.

Since reading the book, I've been thinking of how birding has almost created two parallel worlds for me: the world of birds, which is nothing but enchantment and happiness; and the workaday world, which is so full of dissatisfaction. Which is real? To be honest, I tend to remember the good times, the birds....

I will wrap this post up with a quote from A View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina:

In my youth I was sometimes told to pay attention to the "real world," that place of tedium tallied by digits and zeros, where strings of zeros are pursued and prized. The mass delusion of that "real world" is the fervent belief that ledger books capture the value and consequence of our transactions.

I have never felt at home in the "real world." I still don't. To me, walking in the woods and watching the birds are more real than anything I've ever done for pay; perhaps not surprising, given our human legacy.

For the gamers, a different escape for the same conundrum? Though I do have to wonder, what's wrong with the "real world," if so many people have to escape from it?

So what's your escape? Do you ever feel like you're living in parallel worlds?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Random adventures in bird land

Yes, I take my binoculars everywhere

It's that time of year when I start birding more than ever and yet almost never take along the camera. I'm too intent on finding tiny birds to mess about with that. Even on a good day, the straps of the camera and the binoculars tend to get tangled around my neck when I'm trying to do both, and it all gets a bit heavy, even without the added inconvenience of "warbler neck." That's right...it's confusing fall warbler season again! And since I haven't been paying attention to pictures, or my blog, I will treat you to some passages from my Bird Journal.

But first, three things I've noticed: one, the warblers seem to be coming through a bit early this year. As I mentioned in my last post, I saw my first "fall" warblers on August 10th, and was treated to quite a bonanza over the weekend, somewhat earlier than I'd expected, not that I'm complaining.

Second, confusing fall warblers are confusing no more! Though in the past, I've gnashed my teeth and pulled out my hair trying to figure out one from the other, despairing of being able to distinguish one yellowish olive little bird from the next, for some reason, this year it seems it's finally "clicked." Now if I can do the same with fall sandpipers.

And finally, I've learned that if I name a post "From the Bird Journal," absolutely no one will read it. So instead these are some random adventures. I promise that I won't pick any passages that are too boring.

Kingbirds are a common treat at this time of year

August 17, 2012 -- after work birds (Lake Decatur and Rock Springs Conservation Area)


Getting a bit bored with scoping out peeps on the mudflats. Rain the day before has not made much a difference to the ever-shrinking lake. Did not linger in any case as two strange fellows showed up at the same time as I did, scruffy white guys who appeared to be looking for debris on the mud flats, and certainly were scaring off the peeps.

Walk at Rock Springs dull for the most part, non-birdy even at the feeders. River trail filled with yellow flowers, 5' to 5 1/2' tall, about my height at the tallest. These flowers seem common in late summer, have noticed them before at Humiston Woods, but the ID eludes me. Seem kinda similar in photos/descriptions of a few suspects in the Illinois Wildflowers book: sneezeweed, Jerusalem artichoke, and goldenglow.

A glimpse of warblers enlivens any walk, got two: magnolia and redstart, neither a year bird but redstart a first for the county.

Melancholy thoughts about passenger pigeons for some reason started to prey on me, and wondering how one can mourn so fiercely for something never seen, then wondering if perhaps I have seen them since I am not averse to the concept of metempsychosis. Really sometimes feel like my passenger pigeon obsession is different, say, than feelings towards ivory-billed woodpeckers; not so much, Wish I could see one in the latter case as, How I wish I could see that again! Metaphysical insight or loneliness of the long-distance birder speaking? A five mile loop with few birds leaves much time for speculation.

Lonely ramble did not last long; woman with baby carriage and little girl soon came running behind me on trail yelling for lost son. Attempted to be good neighborly sort and volunteered to look further down the trail and steer missing lad back towards visitor center should I run into him so she could return to place he was last sighted; luckily a go-carted park employee whizzed up and told her where he was so I could resume birding in peace.

So even a non-birdy walk can provide much fodder for the Bird Journal....

Also not a rare sighting....

August 18 -- Weldon Springs State Park

At first the walk seemed like a bird-free zone, a good quarter mile with nothing but cardinals and catbirds. And then...warblerama on the backpack loop! Canada and golden-winged especial favorites, and yet another great look at a parula.

Also a good day for plant ID; I have determined the tall yellow flowers to be goldenglow, and also found a couple of Jerusalem artichoke for comparison, with large one pointed, sandpapery leaves. Other plants seen on trail: American bellflower, common boneset, great blue lobelia, blue lettuce, Missouri ironweed.

August 19 -- Homer Lake (Champaign County)


Walk began with a "bang" with 13 species seen even before I stepped on the trail; especilly pleased to see year birds least flycatcher and a female Cape May warbler. More warblers to follow: ovenbird, black and white, whole flocks of Tennessee. Day quite mild and although I did not see any more new fall migrants, did get year bird Carolina chickadee, ID'd by voice; their dee dee call sounds like "regular" chickadees strung out on Adderall.

Also saw three wild turkeys wading across the creek and I'm always happy when I see an ovenbird; only downside was that the park smelled kinda bad for some reason, a rotten eggish odor.

Summary of birds seen over the weekend
:

Great egret; double-crested cormorant; ring billed gull; Caspian tern; killdeer; pectoral sandpiper; least sandpiper; short-billed dowitcher; barn swallow; solitary sandpiper; eastern kingbird; house sparrow; white-breasted nuthatch; American goldfinch; tufted titmouse; mourning dove; black-capped chickadee; chimney swift; eastern wood pewee; hairy woodpecker; American robin; cedar waxwing; great blue heron; belted kingfisher; red-bellied woodpecker; American redstart; magnolia warbler; downy woodpecker; blue jay; turkey vulture; American crow; European starling; ruby-throated hummingbird; brown-headed cowbird; gray catbird; northern cardinal; great crested flycatcher; golden-winged warbler; Canada warbler; Tennessee warbler; black and white warbler; northern parula; eastern bluebird; Baltimore oriole; least flycatcher; Cape May warbler; Nashville warbler; tree swallow; house wren; chipping sparrow; phoebe; Carolina chickadee; wild turkey; ovenbird; northern flicker; indigo bunting; bay-breasted warbler.



Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rare birds!

Albertus Seba, 1735, from Strange Science

Yesterday I was strolling around Friends Creek Park, in the north of Macon County, not expecting to see much of anything. After all, I was looking for passerines in the midst of the August doldrums, and if there's one thing my experience has taught me, it's that birding in the middle of August is kinda dull. You just have to enjoy the moment for what it's worth, and not hope for anything too exciting.

Thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, ebird, I almost dislike spotting something "rare." I log every bird I see on ebird, telling myself that the "scientists" surely want to know about each and every pigeon and house sparrow I come across (but seriously! There must have been at least 30 pigeons flying over the stinky corn syrup factory in Decatur yesterday.... That's a lot of pigeons!), and every time I've seen something considered rare for this location and time of year, ebird flags my sighting and asks me to "confirm" it, with the message: Are you sure you saw a (fill in the blank rare bird), or similar language.

For most people, this is probably just a routine query. For me, this question throws me into an epistemological quandary. How do I "know" what bird I saw? Seriously, how do I know anything? I could (and have) see something really easy-peasy and common, like a goldfinch or a robin, and a few steps later asked myself, "Did I get a good look, or did I just assume?" I have contemplated striking a blue jay or a flicker from my day's list because, in retrospect, I couldn't remember all the details at the moment I saw it.

This probably makes me sound like a terrible birder, but I am not. In fact, objectively speaking, I consider myself to be an above-average birder, and (hopefully) getting better year by year. But questioning myself is just what I do.

I can totally understand how political prisoners not only sign, but come to believe, forced confessions...how therapy clients dredge up improbable memories and brand new personalities, only to renege on them later...how hostage victims come to question where their loyalties lie. None of these things has ever happened to me (thank God!), but I could see how it might happen.

For one thing, I am very imaginative, and highly suggestible, and am one of those people who seem to have a built-in guilty conscience even if I know I could not possibly have been involved. I have also read enough about how we humans perceive and remember things to find the whole business a shaky prospect. We are not the recording devices that we would like to suppose, but rather, both interpretation and recall are a fluid process.

In order to identify a bird, I must first see it, which is a terribly complicated process involving light hitting my retinas, creating an upside-down image, which is then sent to the brain and sorted out, and then a complicated array of chemical processes allow image to hit cognition in such a fashion that allows me to think, "Ah-ha, indigo bunting!" A lot can go wrong with this process. For one thing, our brains are so primed for pattern recognition that we will happily provide ourselves with patterns that aren't there, such as when hunters accidentally shoot each other, expecting to see a deer, or when I shouted, "pyrrhuloxia!" at what was clearly, a moment later, identifiable as a female northern cardinal. We see what we want to see, literally speaking.

And then we don't even remember it the right way! As the works of researchers such as Elizabeth Loftus has shown, eyewitness testimony is frequently flawed, people's memories change over time (such as when students are asked what they were doing at a pivotal moment right after the account, and then several years later), and it's not even that hard to convince people that they remember things that never happened.

So...am I sure what bird I saw? (It really helps to have a photo!) Well, this weekend, the answer is yes! I am sure! And there was never any doubt!

I was moping along the trail, noticing how still everything seemed and wondering, as I always do about this time of year, when I would see my first fall warblers. It would not be correct to say that there are no birds. I saw a family of waxwings, a couple of kingbirds, a nuthatch and a woodpecker or two. But there's a very different feel to the landscape at this time of the year, and it's a quiet feeling, as if Nature hit the "pause" button. It can be fascinating to compare the incremental changes in the season, but as birding goes, once one is bored with peeps in fall plumage, not that exciting.

And then...I saw a black and white warbler. Already? Well, it was a small, warbler-sized bird, scurrying along the trunks and limbs of a tree, as is their wont. It was white with black streaks, or black with white streaks, depending on your point of view. I was 100% certain, and so excited that I wasn't even wondering why it was so early in the season. Just as that was sinking in, I saw a blue-winged warbler, a beautiful yellow bird with slate gray wings and a striking black line across the eye. Nothing else remotely similar, and again, I was 100% sure what it was. Unless I was hallucinating, I saw those birds. They appeared to be hanging out together, in the company of a red-eyed vireo, and so I just assumed, mixed fall flock of migrants.

But, it's still too early for migrants, isn't it? Ebird sure thought so, and asked me to "confirm" both species. So do we have very early migrants, or were they hanging out there all summer? It's been a year for off-season sightings for me; I saw a pair of brown creepers at Rock Springs in June, and an American redstart at Weldon Springs in July, all unusual sightings according to the database.

But how unusual are they, really? I've never birded in summer at these places before; there's not a lot of records on ebird for them, either. How we would know if these species were hanging out here if no one was bothering to look?

For once, I am completely certain of what I saw. The question remains, are these species really "rare" for the time of year and location? And if so, what are they doing there?

And in the meantime, get out there and bird! Because we might all be astonished by what you see.




Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A birding addiction?

Just as this kingbird needs the bug...I need the kingbird

Every couple has moments that, in retrospect, they just aren't proud of. I don't know how we'd fare against the national average of such moments, but suffice to say, Greenturtle and I have our fair share. I suppose it's a bit surprising that only one of those concerns birding.

I blame No Impact Man. We had both watched the No Impact Man's eponymous documentary, and Greenturtle had also read the book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan. Basically, this fellow attempted to live in a way that would leave no impact whatsoever upon our planet for the space of a year, doubtless a worthy cause, but I am still stuck on the fact that his mission included not using toilet paper. (To which I say: why didn't he use the same tactic that I use to get newspapers to line my bird cages, namely, put the word out amongst friends, family and coworkers that all and any newspapers they receive will happily be "recycled" by oneself? I know that there are cultures that have traditionally favored the left hand for these functions, but really!)

Anyway, Greenturtle is easily swayed by such things, and we had both recently attempted to commute everywhere by bicycle to see what living without a car would be like, an idea which I championed in the wake of the B.P. Oil Spill, as I was sobbing every day as I read the news and desperate to try something, anything to feel like I could make a difference.

The results of this attempt, and the aftermath of the Oil Spill, are worth a couple of posts on their own. But the short version is: it didn't work out all that well for me.

As I tried to explain to Greenturtle as he and I strolled through Tipton Park in Bloomington together, discussing No Impact Man. He asked if I thought I could attempt a similar feat.

I had to admit that, especially in the humiliating wake of the No Car Experiment, I did not feel up to the challenge. It wasn't that I didn't want to try to live more lightly on the Earth, but all of the best birding locations I knew were out of town....

"So why can't you live without birding?" he asked. At this point, we were still talking about the documentary, but seriously, what a question!

"It's not that I 'can't' live without birding," I said, "it's why would I want to? Birding is the best thing in my whole life...the one thing I can consistently look forward to. It's the only thing that I can count on to make me happy, and at peace. Why, why, why would I give that up?" (NB: also the reason I get up in the morning. As I've told him, yelling, "Rare bird sighting at Weldon Springs!" would cause me to jump out of bed with a lot more alacrity on a workday morning...at least until I'd caught on to the ruse.)

Then he threw down the gauntlet: "If you can't live without birding, then it's like you're addicted to it."

We had already discussed people who seemed addicted to birding, such as the late Phoebe Snetsinger, the first woman Big Lister who risked alienating her family, not to mention her own safety and well-being, in her world-wide quest for birds. (On the flip side, birding just may have saved her life: diagnosed with incurable melanoma, she decided to spend her last few months birding...and lived for another couple of decades.) And now he seemed to think that I might be a candidate for the same category.

"Don't be ridiculous," I retorted. "You can't be addicted to birds!"

"Can you stop birding?" he challenged me.

"That's a stupid question. I won't even bother to answer it, because there's nothing wrong with birding, it's my hobby, and why would I want to stop? That's silly!"

"That answer sounds like the way an addict would talk," he persisted. He tried to compare me to people he had met back in the day in rehab, and I kept pointing out what a stupid comparison that was.

"Ask a psychologist," he said, "and he'll tell you I'm right."

By now, we were both getting angry. "I happen to work with a psychologist," I replied, "and I will ask him!"

At this point in the argument, we paused on a bridge over the pond, and when he tried to hurry me up, I snapped, "Leave me alone! I'm getting high off this duck!!"

Later that week, I did ask the psychologist in my building if it was possible to be addicted to birding, and he said no, not in any physical sense, but all pleasurable activities cause dopamine to be released in the brain, which creates that nice fuzzy feeling that tends to make us want to do it again. But really, he suggested, my husband and I should sit down and negotiate our activities so we don't argue about the birds anymore. Which is a total psychologist answer, but still left both Greenturtle and myself thinking we were right on the addicted to birds issue.

A couple years after the Bird Addict Argument, and after the subsequent Free Time Detente (in which it was agreed that he can spend all the time he wants gaming on his computer, likewise me with birding, and no hurt feelings or guilt trips, hooray!), the question remains....

Can one be addicted to birding?

Today, for example, my brief highlight occurred not even while I was birding (alas, on a workday now, that isn't possible), but when a future birding jaunt crossed my mind. For a few minutes, imagining the lovely birds I might see, I felt at peace. On my way to and from work, the birds I notice while driving are the only things I remember. A half-naked clown might gambol by the roadside unnoticed, but I see every starling, pigeon, mourning dove, robin and killdeer to cross my path as if I were some sci-fi cyborg measuring them up for termination. If someone took birds away from me, and all future hope of birds, at this point I am not sure if I would find a reason to go on living.

You could call it addiction. Or you could call it the bond between the lover and the beloved. And as mystics such as Rumi, Saint Theresa and Saint John of the Cross have pointed out in their works, the yearning of the lover (us) for the beloved (the divine) can be a very significant longing. To me, that's birding. Oh, and the hopes of increasing my life list by another species or ten, that's birding too. Not gonna lie about it....

What about you? Is there anything you are "addicted" to?