Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dream Influence #2 - Exhaustion.

Hypnagogia. Odd word - neat phenomenon. The first time I encountered this term was in A. Huxley's "Brave New World: Revisited". In short, it's that state of mind when you're right on the verge of sleep, but retain conscious thought. Mr. Huxley (and many a powermonger in his time) posited incorrectly that minds in this state were more prone to maniputation and propaganda - or "receptive to suggestability" if you like such euphemisms... *creepy*.

One of the more common experiences during this all too brief period is dreamlike images, usually only when eyes are closed - although all sorts of sensory hallucinations, including synaesthesia can be experienced. For most, including me, the visualizations are quite odd - "trippy" covers it. And, they rarely string together in anything close to a coherent story or plot. In this sense they are more like proto-dreams.

In my brief research, I was comforted to find that many monumentally creative figures in history have referenced this state-of-mind; specifically for it's fertility of innovation and genius. Another reason to have the journal and pen at the ready at all times.

I mention all that because I had bird-oriented visualizations during hypnogogia just before a nap the other day. Can't remember the last time this has happened, but it must have. Last weekend I made my first birding trip to the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is one of the most accessible places in the U.S. to see birds more easily found in Mexico. It was late afternoon and I was in Hidalgo, Texas. I'd only gotten some 5 hours sleep (for the third night in a row) and had been birding since about 8:30 that morning. What tipped the scales from my being just "really tired" to "shear exhausted" was a 6 mile hike thrown in during the early afternoon. I am embarrassed at how unfit I am... but I digress.

It started with an image like an archery target - 5-6 wide, concentric, rings (all with same colors). Conforming to the curvature of each ring was a tiling (actually tessellations - a la M.C. Escher) comprised of light and dark birds. The birds appeared to be grackles - probably Boat or Great-tailed (Quiscalus major and " mexicanus respectively). Wicked awesome for sure; but on top of this each ring rotated opposite those adjacent to it.

From here things got down right bizarre, but no less creative. Cinematic scenes and static images went by dizzingly fast. After what seemed like minutes of this barrage, I began to feel frustrated. Much of what appeared was fascinating to my conscious mind. However, I don't yet have the skill to either remember or record these experiences in real time. A few things I do remember: two or three moving scenes of single, small birds perched and/or feeding (in near real-life detail!), one more tesselation (in free space, not confined to a geometric shape), and a few slideshow-esque close up images of birds.

It wouldn't be a product of my mind if there wasn't some irony in this. Throughout this day I had seen no fewer than eight lifebirds, a very exotic escapee, and several more species I have only seen one or two times before. And yet, all the hypnogogic images I can remember were of the commonest birds in the entire South and Southwest region (i.e. Grackles, Titmice, White-eyed Vireo, etc.). ???...

Friday, January 30, 2009

... Till the Robins Come.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Photo Copyright 2006 - John Maskell

"I had a dream...

... In the dream, there was our world and the world was dark; because there weren't any robins.
And the robins represented Love.

And, for the longest time there was just this Darkness.

And, all of the sudden thousands of robins were set free,
and they flew down and brought this blinding light of Love.

And it seemed like that Love would be the only thing
that would make any difference... and it did.

... So I guess it means:
there is trouble till the robins come."

- Laura Dern as Sandy Williams ("Blue Velvet") -

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hooray for Hummingbirds!

A frequent question from non-birders is "What's your favorite bird?". For a while, I found it challenging to answer. The true, but very boring, answer is: "I don't have just one.  I'm fascinated with them all".  I do have affinities for certain groups: shorebirds, hawks, gulls, parrots, bowerbirds, birds-of-paradise, and others. The "other" I harbor the most fondness for is hummingbirds.  Yes, the fact that I actually enjoy identifying gulls certifies my insanity. And now for the dream...

A small family reunion in my parents' backyard, was visited upon by a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. He was quite animated and made several passes by the patio. Everybody was amused with his antics. I continued to exploit and appreciate my paranormal dream-ability to zoom as close up to birds as I want. I actually studied this guy's individual gorget feathers. Sweeeeeet!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Photo Copyright - drash (click to visit other galleries)

The plot thickened when another hummingbird became jealous of the attention the ruby-throated was getting. Cue dramatic music. The hummer cartoonishly feigned dying - atop the patio roof no less. Another of its species, not aware of the ruse, quickly flew to the rascal. It appeared to attempt to revive, rouse and comfort. How cool was it that I understood the motivations of the birds? I'll give myself an anthropomorphizing mulligan on this one.

This second species is not a real-world one, as best I can figure. Head and throat were charcoal gray (perhaps due to angle). Body and belly - a brilliant turquoise; with dark teal tail feathers. Velvet-purple Coronet most closely fits the bill. Gorgeous none-the-less!

Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)
Photo Copyright 2008 - David and Leah (click for other galleries)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2008 - In Retrospect and Reflection

True, it's only been a little over a month. But I'll do a recap anyway. Having these many bird-dreams was a complete surprise. And I never foresaw such internal momentum pushing all these words out (I edit this stuff, I swear!). I also had no idea I'd enjoy this process as much as I do. It's quite fulfilling, even fun.

In my first post, I posited a direct correlation between frequency of real-world birding and dreambirding. The weeks since have clearly decimated that hypothesis. I've birded in earnest twice since starting this blog! Part of me would like to feel "impressive" reporting that I've learned some esoteric techniques that guarantee I'll dreambird each night (e.g. visualizations, yoga, purple Skittles before bed, etc.). Confession: I have meditated with intention on dreaming about birding/birds over a dozen times in the past forty days. How many times did it pan out? Once... maybe.

This month also saw two major dreambirding trends bucked and several firsts. Historically, my dreams have been populated with species I could expect to find locally (Austin, TX). These six weeks alone have seen: Tinamous, Macaws, a tropical hummingbird, asian shorebirds, Australasian parrots and several species from the western U.S. 2008 also saw a dramatic increase in non-passerine encounters (adding doves, ducks, owls, a Cockatoo, multiple parrots and others to the list). I'm confident there's been more diversity in these dreams over the past six weeks than the six years preceding. Keep it coming, I say. Bring... it... on!

Lastly, thanks to all who've visited. I'm eager to see where 2009 brings us.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Truely Great Migration

The "Birding Boot Camp" post reminds me of a dream I had over a year ago. I was in my parent's backyard, deep in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. Over the duration of the dream I wandered, mesmerized, for several hundred yards in a general southwest direction.

My attention was captivated by an incredible phenomenon turned fantastical in the dreamworld. The majority of the dream was simply witnessing an enormous migration taking place high overhead. The magnitude was easily in the hundreds of thousands, maybe more. The progression was continuous, spanning horizon to horizon, rather than in distinct groupings.  Hawkwatchers call this a "river" of migrants. 

All those little specks?... Yep, migrating hawks.  Magical stuff to witness. I miss hawkwatching. 
Image online here 

It would have been amazing enough had it just been birds.  This migration was truly epic; how varied and disparate the species were. It even included fish, cetaceans (porpoises, whales) and jellyfish! As if that weren't enough, the color experience was psychadelic. All the animals glowed with an opalescent aura.  Far. Out.  The mileu was cinematic. The surreality and impossibility awe-inspiring.  It generated a positive feeling that carried long into the real world.

When things get a bit too weird in a dream, I usually awaken feeling uneasy.    However, despite this being the most bizarre dream I've had with birds, I loved it. I'm thrilled to share this departure from the pedestrian dreambirding experiences.  And, blogging it allows me to really savor what a gift this was. Hope there's more where that came from.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Birding Boot Camp

Thin plot in this dream. The birds were the real focus. The setting was a nondescript suburban park that seamlessly evolved into my parents' semi-rural, New England, backyard.

I was leading a field trip for other birders wanting to lead field trips. Actually, it was more like a birding "boot camp". Sorry... no fatigues, shaved heads, screaming while spitting on people, or KP duty. There was fast-paced, high-intensity, "extreme" birding though.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Image online here

Most species were seen right after the other. A wonky, somewhat yellowish female Northern Cardinal was hopping around in a tree near where we started. A small flock of Rock Pigeon shooshed low overhead, in their usual hurry.

Rock Pigeon (Colomba livia)
Image online here

Just thirty or so feet away, a Blue Jay sat perched scoping out the landscape.  In between was a very small reedy pool; a Great Blue Heron stood sentinel.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Image online here

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Image online here

The group made its way towards the jay, hanging a hard left just before its tree.  We were then headed around the back of my parents' garage.  A row of tall shrubbery behind it, that doesn't exist in reality, formed an alley.  Noticing movement in the greenery prompted our attention.  Here we found a few each of Tufted Titmouse and Cedar Waxwing.

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bilcolor)
Image online here

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Image online here

Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora)
Image online here

We filed through to the other side of the alleyway.  Immediately to our left, hanging over and knawing on the edge of the roof, was a pair of Green Parakeet.  Everybody got a kick out of this impishness.  We weren't entertained long before we heard the tell-tale call of a Summer Tanager above and behind us.  Sure enough when we turned an immature male was calling high in one of the trees in the neighbor's yard.   

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) - immature male
Image online here

 We then followed the tree line between the two properties back toward the neighborhood road.  When we arrived at the last tree, a tall Norway Spruce, we encountered an aggressive male Broad-tailed Hummingbird - replete with high-pitched wing twitter.  His swooping flight pattern told me he was acting territorially.  Very cool! 

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)
Photo Copyright 2003 - Greg Scott

The very end was really cool, reminding me of probably the most fantastical bird dream I've ever experienced. That dream will receive a post soon.  In this "grande finale", we witnessed  tens of thousands of myriad birds soar overhead as a contiguous group. They then descended in long lazy spirals, before continuing low to the south. Most were unidentifiable, but it was clear they were of all shapes, sizes and species. One memorable oddity: all were grass green in color. Generic family groups I could ID were true owls (Strigidae), true parrots (Psittacidae), buteo hawks (Acciptridae) and some larger sandpipers (Scolopacidae).  Family names are linked to their respective Wikipedia entries.


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