Definition: The power to pull/attract animals towards oneself.
First Saturday of the new year, and I am once again driving through the fog and feeling like I am risking life and limb to follow through on my intention to go birding more this year than previous years. This day, I am heading southeast towards Seabrook, to Pine Gully Park, where the Houston Audubon hosts a bird walk on a monthly basis. I have invited two friends there, two ladies that I met in the fall that I suddenly have been spending a lot of time with. Lisa is a friend of a friend who I met at a hippie bar and discovered we shared a love of the outdoors, and Katie is a woman from my book club that turns out lived just a few doors down from me the first few years, including those COVID years when I would have loved to have a friend that I could have met outdoors for walks six feet apart or something, a time where I was really missing time spent with friends. We each made our own separate way through the fog and met up with the group in the parking lot.
Our group set off with the bird walk leader Stennie, who demonstrated a technique called “pishing”, where you make a specific sound to attract the birds. This “pishing” was very effective towards the end of the walk at attracting a Ruby Crowned Kinglet who spent quite a bit of time in the trees close to us, visible to the naked eye. She also took the time to show us particular birds in her field guide and describe their field marks for us.
We had a group of 8-10 of us, and one person in the group was making use of “playback – use of an app, probably Merlin, to play calls on occasion to try to lure the birds out. At one point, a Red Bellied Woodpecker was so attracted to the call that he came flying right towards us, and then stayed in the area for a bit, going from tree to tree trying to figure us out. The use of an app to draw out birds is controversial, but I ask, what is the difference between using technology and using old-fashioned “pishing”?
Our time on the walk was coming to an end, and to tell you the truth, I was looking forward to being done because I was restless to move on to the next thing (going to Maas Nursery and then lunch), but when we walked past the cemetery, we saw a couple of beautiful birds that we had not yet seen. We waved Stennie over and she identified them as Eastern Bluebirds (which I have seen before, but for some reason did not recognize today = probably because I I am rusty in my birding skills).
In the end, we had logged 18 species and felt like we had learned a lot. After this, we headed over to Maas Nursery, where there was so much to see that it was almost bewildering to make choices. We do want to come back in the spring, but perhaps on a weekday, but it is notoriously crowded come spring time. Several interesting feasts for the eyes and inspiration for garden dreams. I am not a person who is normally interested in plants, because I am no good at caring for them, but I would be willing to take a day off work to go here again in the spring, because I would in fact like to invest in creating a space for pollinators and birds in my backyard.
Later, I contemplated these methods of attracting birds and how I felt about them personally. When we as a society got to the point where we were ready to loosen COVID restrictions, I had found myself in deep need of new female friendships. When I struck up new friendships, I would try to pay attention to what that woman liked, and then offer this activity to attract this new friend out to spend time with me. I am pretty open-minded and have a wide range of interests, so it is not like I am faking interest in an activity to get them to feel more connected to me (a mistake I made with my first husband), but sometimes the things they like aren’t exactly the first things I would think about when trying to find an activity to do, such as going to a drag brunch or Thursday night karoake. But I look for these opportunities and then invite them to them, in a way that reminds me of Stennie pishing at the bushes, hoping to intice this new friend to come out and show herself, and spend time doing something she likes, in order to get to a place in our friendship where I feel secure.
Because I do this myself, I don’t have an issue doing this with the birds, but it also depends on the situation and what the risks are to the animal. In this case, winter time, just drawing them out a little seems harmless, but once breeding season begins, it can be unfair because it is confusing and could be stressful. Without the use of this tool on this bird walk, we likely would have only seen probably half the birds that we saw, and it might have felt like a waste of gas and time to drive so far out there for birds we probably could have seen closer to our house. I did get to spend quality time deepening my relationship with these two women, though, so for me, it would have been worth the drive.