A Deeper Focus


For the birds

Keith Hansen has to be one of the top birders in the United States, let alone internationally. His talk Friday night at the SLO Botanical Garden on May 3rd was an amazing introduction to a novice in the world of birding like me. In an hour’s time we saw film of the 270+ birds Keith filmed during his Carbon Free Big Year, during which he captured all of the images via bicycle, foot or kayak. The patio outside his studio in Bolinas has attracted a record number of migrating and local birds, including a record of over 60 different hummingbirds in one day at his 15 feeders. Whether they are in winter plumage or summer, male or female, juvenile or adult, Keith can spot them, name them and give their Latin designation as well. After over an hour of hiking in Montana de Oro the following morning, Keith asked us to tell him how many different species we had just seen. All of us were wrong in our guesses the correct answer was 41, which Keith recited in perfect taxonomy order. Other birders in the state park began following us around, just to listen.

Keith told some hilarious stories, including some of the famous visitors to his gallery, such photographer Annie Liebowitz and actress Frances McDormand and her husband, Joel Coen of the famed Coen Brothers, who with his brother Ethan, have directed such movies as Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men. Keith had complained to the latter that bird songs and calls were often misrepresented in the movies by Hollywood, i.e. South American bird sounds in a movie taking place in Africa. Coen, relieved that No Country for Old Men had passed muster with Keith, suggested that he become a consultant to Hollywood on sound effect realism around bird calls. Keith said he would be delighted. On their next trip back to Bolinas, McDormand and Coen reported that had spoken to “Clint” about this (meaning, of course, Clint Eastwood), who pulled his cigar out of his mouth and commented “I don’t give a flying f***.”  So ended Keith’s potential Hollywood career.

Anyone interested in checking out Keith’s latest book Birds of the Sierra Nevada can see it here. Thank you to Paula Vigneault, Terri Knowlton and Jean Osterman for their help volunteering for the Friday night event.

Stacey Hunt

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