By Caryn Schutzler, Seattle Audubon Member
Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor—from the Scandinavian enclave of Ballard to bustling South Lake Union, from funky Fremont to vibrant Columbia City, and everywhere in between. This is a series for the blog, Birding My Neighborhood, with volunteer, writer, and amateur photographer Caryn Schutzler.
Bird is a Verb.
Taking the Seattle Audubon bumper sticker to heart, I made plans to bird in the true sense of the verb with writer and fellow birding enthusiast, Bryony Angell. We met through a mutual writer friend and delighted in our shared love of both birds and words.
Bryony kindly eked out a time to meet at her home in North Seattle. When I drove up, we met in her front garden and she ushered me directly into her kitchen, the divine aroma of baking bread meeting us at the front door.
With Vesper, her two-year old “little bird” lodged tightly on her hip, she nimbly wrangled a heavy pan of homemade bread from the oven. As it cooled, we got acquainted chatting and birding from her deck over a glass of bird-friendly, sustainable Sauv Blanc (Yes, there are such wines and I was just doing my part to assist Bryony’s research for her future piece on the subject!). Already impressed by her multi-tasking, I learned as we visited she’s an avid cook and baker, evident by her delectable bread. Bryony and Vesper made me feel instantly right at home.
We set a date to bird and a week later Bryony and Vesper picked me up at my home and drove to Lake Forest Park, Bryony’s childhood neighborhood. She pulled into Grace Cole Park, a smallish 15-acre urban park, among several others in the area, one of Bryony’s favorite birding spots.
Bryony says, “With all the trees and water sources, this area attracts many woodland birds like owls, woodpeckers, crossbills, finches, flycatchers, chickadees, ducks, and even a Belted Kingfisher now and then!”
Lyons Creek, which runs through the backyard of her childhood home, and McAleer Creek nearby, offer both ample water and food to birds. As we wound through this well-wooded area, I imagined Bryony living in the world of the House of Owls book by her dad. “Hearing the hoo-hooing from our bedroom was a magic way to grow up,” she says. I felt a slight tinge of envy envisioning her experiences of growing up there, wishing I’d had Western Screech Owls nesting outside my house!
Belted Kingfisher / Charles Wheeler / Audubon Photography Awards
Western Screech Owl / Ken Shults / Audubon Photography Awards
Since her father still resides in Lake Forest Park, it remains a most cherished place to bird.
Talking birds—and words with Bryony in her neck of the woods, I felt like I was on a birding expedition with one of those birder-writers we both love to read or write about. A newly fledged writer I still feel unsure of my wobbly-writer-legs so I was pleased to talk about the craft of writing with someone who writes about anything to do with birds and birding. And Bryony freely shared her writerly wisdom. Since writing, like birding, is a learned skill, we can only improve with the help of others passionate in our similar interests.
Once out of the car, we heard a faint bird call. Bryony’s finely tuned ear quickly identified it as a Pacific Slope Flycatcher and confirmed it on her Sibley app.
We started our walk on the boardwalk that led into the heart of the park.
From there the path gained in elevation and was not clearly marked so I was glad Bryony and Vesper were leading the way. Our bird sightings weren’t as numerous as hoped but just a walk in the woods was satisfying, especially seeing evidence of woodpeckers in a well-used snag.
Along the way, Bryony told me she has been a Seattle Audubon volunteer since 2005, until her own “first bird”, Vireo, her nine-year old son was born. In addition to working full-time outside the home, Bryony writes professionally for various publications encouraging an audience of urban and suburban women to consider birding as an easy-to-incorporate practice in their lives. Bryony wants readers to feel “capable of partaking in this engaging pastime without feeling intimidated.”
Though Bryony claims to be at a “teenage” level of birding, she considers possibly becoming a Master Birder at some point when time allows but she says: “a new person getting into birding may fear an expert and by my not wearing a Master Birder hat I’m more approachable and fallible, serving my mission to attract new people to birding by sharing the same newcomer curiosity they have.” She lives this sentiment and I can attest that she has helped me feel at ease.
If, by chance, her name sounds familiar, Bryony Angell is the daughter of the well-known author/artist/sculptor of birds, and other subjects in nature, Tony Angell. And Bryony has certainly carved out her own creative niche within the realm of birds and nature, focusing on writing about birding culture—the people, lifestyles and other topics in the world of birding. Bryony’s website showcases “women who are doing something real, meaningful, and brave within the birding or conservation scene, especially those not historically represented.”
And as we both have discovered, finding the right words—like birds—can be difficult. They both take time, patience—listening. Yet they seem to come easily to Bryony. In addition to her website, her contributions to the Seattle Audubon blog keep us all up-to-date on many of the organization’s goings-on.
Continuing our walk, we stopped to watch a Brown Creeper work a nearby alder just off the trail. Yay, finally a visual among all the furtive bird communiqué!
We could hear Bewick’s Wrens, Spotted Towhees, and chickadees rustling in the dense summer underbrush. Steller’s Jays squawked. Woodpeckers drummed. Invisible. Only an occasional flash of wings. Most of them remained hidden—heard, not seen—making it a good opportunity to practice our birding by ear.
Bryony and I, like many others, realize selecting the right word—which can be equally as tricky and satisying as finding a bird—helps to make sense of what’s out there in the birding community that needs a closer look. Kind of like focusing in on it with a good pair of binoculars. We try to make the birds and people in the birding world more visible and love knowing we are helping promote interest in birding by connecting birders through our words using our own unique, distinct voices. Our clarion call.
It’s now September with fall migration well underway. As we bird our neighborhoods and backyards and track the birds that pass through on their way home we, and they, give credence to the verb “bird”. Whether you bird solo or in a group, in your own neighborhood or a world away, remember—Bird is a Verb.
Note: Bryony writes about birding culture at www.bryonyangell.com
Caryn continues her Seattle Audubon blog series, Birding My Neighborhood, migrating to various Seattle neighborhoods, visiting the birds and birders that reside in them. Follow her on Instagram @bluedarner1