Whether he’s in far-off lands or his own backyard, Michael Ellis is, and long has been, an avid birdwatcher.
I have been bird watching since I was a late teen. Back then it was definitely one of the nerdiest things a young person could do. Think Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace. But when I arrived in the Bay Area in 1977, I found my tribe! Here there were (and are) many cool nature nerds — an oxymoron, I know. And during this pandemic, many stay-at-homers have discovered the joys of backyard birding.
There are, of course, many ways to enjoy our feathered friends. To begin one has to look very carefully and patiently to identify them. Then discovering the name, they do feel like a friend. But there is also just the aesthetics of witnessing birds, especially when they flock.
There are several kinds of flocks — huge numbers of geese soaring up, then descending into frosty fields, the classic V-shaped formation of pelicans, and the mass surface movements of shearwaters. But my guilty pleasure is the murmuration of non-native European starlings.
Eugene Schieffelin founded the Acclimatization Society, a group of enthusiastic Shakespeare lovers who wanted to introduce into the U.S. every bird mentioned in the Bard's plays. Eugene and his buddies released 60 starlings into Central Park in 1890. These birds took to this country with enthusiasm and reproductive vigor. Now there’s 200 million and they have wreaked havoc in many ecosystems.