Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sparrowhawk Surprise

Trackers often talk about bird language. That is because birds are great indicators of what is happening in an area and they now their locality intimately. My own experience of bird language is largely intuitive. Before I ever heard the term 'bird language' I already used the calls and behaviors of animals to get information about events in my vicinity. I think bird language is in fact just another term for Awareness. Deepening Awareness and experience will slowly teach you bird language. It will also become obvious that it is not just about the birds but about all the animals you are aware of.

Sure, of all the animals about, the birds are the most vocal and often the most numerous so they dominate the propagation of an event with their calls and behavior. It is pretty interesting to see that the only species that does not generally take notice of and understands bird language are the humans. Well, we do but we have learned to ignore it to the point that we have almost forgotten how to revive it.

The fact that I am at the moment researching bird language specifically and more formally is caused by the fact that I am preparing advanced tracking and awareness courses. As is the case for many aspects of aboriginal tracking, things that I normally do intuitively and largely without too much conscious thought, are pretty difficult to recognize, formalize and teach. In the end it is all about Awareness and learning from experience.

To this end there were two books I looked forward to read. The first is "What The Robin Knows" by Jon Young and the second is the third book in the Discover Nature Awareness series of books, "Bird Language", written by my friend and colleague Geoffrey McMullan. The first book I am studying right now. The second, I hope will come out soon as I think that one will be closer to the bone for me. I do not personally know Jon Young but from his book I gather he is an avid birder and the same is true for Geoffrey. I, on the other hand, am not. I love birds and examine their behavior and individual traits every day but I could not name most of them to safe my life. It was funny that Jon Young in his book wrote that he had never met anybody who did not have the urge to immediately identify a new bird as soon it was observed. Well, I can't wait to meet him just to create precedence. My focus is more on the individual animal. I do of course recognize the species I meet but not by name. Starting in Young's book I was slightly overwhelmed by all the names of all the birds he talks about. In the end I simply told myself that this book could also be written without naming the birds as I intuitively know bird language is not about the specific calls each species makes.

What bird language is about is the intention of the calls: marking territory, calling a mate, aggression, begging for food and most interesting for the tracker, alarms. All animals, including us, will pick up on these intentions once we open up to them. We do not need to know the specifics. We simply get it as we are part of the mesh that is Nature.

So, This afternoon I was trying to identify these various intentions from the numerous birds around my house. I feed birds so there are plenty about, all trying to get sunflower seeds. Mostly small birds. There were birds singing but they were beyond my own plot in the forest. That makes sense as singing is territorial and my garden is clearly a no man's land where all birds need to accept each other somewhat if they want the seeds. That does not mean they are quiet. They make a lot of companion calls, constantly checking up on the others. What I was hoping for though is that a known cat would walk into the garden. I was sure that that would generate alarm calls. It did not happen. What did happen was far more intense.

All of a sudden a great tit made an alarm call. All the birds flew up and landed in the bushes around the place where the seeds were. The squirrel that was eating only one meter in front of me jolted but did not move. In fact he was the first to continue eating but he clearly understood the warning. Slowly the birds returned to the heap of seeds and started eating again. That one great tit was still edgy and constantly looking at a certain tree. I tried to find what he had seen but I could not. Ten minutes passed and all was forgotten. Until, suddenly, the squirrel looked up from his bowl and looked at me as if to ask: "did you notice that?". The birds reacted not. The squirrel wasted no time and ran away into the bushes. At that moment I felt, in a split second, an enormous tension building up. Just as when you get a surge of adrenaline. I was in peripheral vision so I had a wide angle view of the garden. In this view was now a very fast moving object. I noticed what it was first when it hit straight in he middle of the seeds. It was also first at that moment that the alarm calls screeched through the air. It was like an explosion of birds all flying away from the seeds. What was left was another bird, a sparrowhawk. Although I could not confirm it I think he got a small bird as he took of a few seconds after landing and perched in a nearby birch for a minute and then flew of. All song had stopped and his path could be followed by the alarms he caused on his way.

I wonder, did the great tit notice the sparrow hawk ten minutes earlier? How did the hawk manage to so surprise all the birds but not the squirrel? What was the squirrel's cue?

Interpreting intention and unraveling concentric rings. That is bird language, a tool for all trackers. It is the tongue of Nature and all living things know it by Heart.

Peter Friebel          

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Widen Your Vision

Social media should be great. They enable us to connect with like minded people and to share our thoughts and opinions. But by ratings, followers and likes, automatic filtering of most popular posts etc, social media became an arena. They became the battle field of ego and the hunting fields of self gratification and self actualization. This has made almost all posts a "like" hunt and when the most horrific pictures and videos are misused to shock us into thinking about real issues a minute or two, just enough to inappropriately click 'like', something is really wrong!

I am not going to discuss the system itself. Although we have created the most effective automated mobbing tools with our social media, it is our own conduct on these platforms that creates the mobbing. It could just as well have turned out to become the most giving paradigm for human connection and communication. What I do want to discuss is some of our conduct.

I am just as touched by images of famine, animal abuse and war as the next person but I do not find it appropriate to use this misery to get likes. Sure, sometimes a shocking image can shake you out of a stupor but be honest, what do you actually do about it? Watch the video? Shed a tear? "Oh soooo true! I have to share it!" After that you probably go about your usual business. If you are really engaged by the issue you may actually donate some money to the cause. But you didn't really change anything for yourself did you? You hope that sharing it and donating money causes others to act for change. The only impact on your own life was a few minutes of shock or sadness.

Before, It was a joy to open my Facebook page and read all the funny and interesting things my friends had created and shared. Today it is with trepidation I open Facebook. Not only is 90% of all post something that people shared instead of created themselves, an alarming amount of the content either ruins my day or literally makes me hurl. But safe us all if somebody shows almost a nipple! It gets censored before you can say "George Orwell" as it may damage the frail minds of the kids that are not allowed to use the system anyway.

Now, again, I do not want to discuss the system and I do not even want to discuss the reasons behind our lust to share misery. It is enough to notice that many of us care about a lot of things and want to give vent to their outrage, sadness or indignation. I am not different myself but I have recognized it in myself and hated myself for doing it. Not because the issues do not deserve the attention but because the way we give attention punishes only ourselves and does nothing to actually change something!

What does it help to see a brutally mutilated elephant while in my own country local authorities, time after time, authorize the hunting down and killing of large predators to satisfy some trivial commercial interest while there are only very few predators left? Even if nothing locally can compare, what can I do about the elephant except cry for it? Well, one thing I suggest we can do is think about why all these things happen. Poachers in Africa are incredibly poor. Sure, many are very criminal too but often only out of desperation to provide for their families. How did that come about? If you start to analyze these things I think you will very soon unravel a pattern: Most of the problems are either directly or indirectly linked to our so called modern way of living and its enforcing culture. The total exploitation of the world's resources benefitting only a few, almost always has a significant part in the causes behind many atrocities in the world. On the plus side, this means that we can actually do something about it!

Instead of sharing the wretchedness we could share a positive attitude and energy to turn things around. Instead of sharing a picture of a dead wolf show a video of a good journalist grilling a responsible bureaucrat on how this can happen at the same time the scientists say exactly the same things about the tigers in India as the wolves in Sweden. Instead of showing a picture of a dog after being dragged behind a car, show a picture or video of the many organizations working with nature based therapy to fight Nature Deficit Syndrome in our kids so they actually value life instead of destroy it for fun.

There are almost no more horrific images put on TV and The Internet than those in the promotional spots of WSPA like organizations. Again they shock us but do they change things? They focus on the needs of the organization to do its work but not so much on the needs of animals and life in general. Instead why not show a trial on TV of the person who dragged the dog after his car skinning it alive. Show the judge giving him a 2 month sentence on probation and later show an interview where that same judge and some politicians are forced to justify that sentence against another one where a person gets 40 years for smoking a joint. Make people want to change things instead of contain things. Share the positive actions undermining the occurrences instead of shocking us into revulsion.

I realize that many of the solutions will seem almost unattainable. That is why we need to radiate positive energy and not negative energy because they are both equally contagious. Once you start changing something in your life that is positive and beyond the ego you will find others helping you and joining in.

I am lucky as my own work deals with changing the attitudes people have towards the living world. I am able to donate time and knowledge that can change things. Granted, in the end its just a drop in the ocean but think what can happen if we all provided a drop.

We should share evidence of the interconnection of all things, share images of the wealth and knowledge from diverse and alternative cultures all over the world, share stories about animals being animals in a world that just simply exists. Not for the benefit of the human animal alone but for life itself.

Lets start by sharing our efforts towards change instead of the gruesome evidence of our paralysis.

Peter Friebel