[Tweeters] Field Relativity

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Mon Jan 7 18:29:11 PST 2013

As a general naturalist, I find the study of Relativity endlessly fascinating.
I'm not referring to the well- known (though maybe not so well understood ) Theory of Relativity. While that's pretty interesting, I'm no Einstein , and not real good at complex math. I feel like I'm missing critically important parts of that whole deal.
What I'm talking about is relativity in the field. Things that are easily experienced in the field with ears, eyes, and nose, touch, etc.
Take size for example. Some birds are larger, some are smaller. It's all relative. I live next door to a little pocket park in North Everett- mostly lawn. On some mornings, looking out the window I note House Sparrows flying out from the shelter of my well treed and shrubbed yard to snoop on the lawn. I think of it as my own little savannah. Then maybe a flock of Starlings may show up, often in numbers - I think of them of the Wildebeest's of my little field. They make the sparrows look smaller, and they look larger. Then maybe a Crow or two will show up, especially if some garbage is in the park. Those Crows look pretty big!
Occasionally, since I'm close to the Sound, some Glaucous-winged Gulls show up on the lawn, dwarfing everybody else. That's relativity! Now imagine a Trumpeter Swan showing up. Not likely, but not impossible. That would be my savannah elephant. Those swans are huge, and as far as I know, Washington state's heaviest native bird.

It's always fun to have that rare juxtaposition of two birds of similar, yet different sizes, next to each other- like the two Yellowleg's around here, or maybe the two Ravens in the Southwest. Relativity can be subtle in the field..For whatever reason, I find myself tending to see birds as larger than they are, unless I have something else (bird, plant, etc) to visually relate it to.

I got to thinking about all this relativity stuff last week, when walking my (wife's) dog to Forgotten Creek, a little urban ravine near the Anchor Pub. Walking down the trail, we rousted up a Pacific Wren, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and got very close views. Being a circumstantial naturalist, it had been awhile since I'd seen either one of these birds, and I had forgotten how tiny they are! Relatively. Either one would make a fair hood ornament for a Trumpeter Swan, or a Bald Eagle which are the larger birds I've been seeing more of lately on my rounds.
Also interesting were those tiny bird's colors; the brown wren contrasting with the green kinglet. The kinglet seemed unusually green to me; maybe relativity in action. As an artist I know that the perception of color depends greatly on what other colors are around. Warm colors look cooler when surrounded by even warmer colors. A cool blue can look warmer surrounded by even cooler blues. Relativity! Complimentary colors also accentuate each other; maybe the green in the kinglet was brought out by the brown of the wren, or the sort of red-brown twigs it was on. Maybe it really was a super-green kinglet. Lacking a green-o-meter on my walk, I guess I'll never be sure. Sure was purty though.

Of course color can be greatly affected by "stage lighting"- the warmth or coolness of the ambient light, or the intensity of light; another relative- bright vs. dim. One of my favorite faux pas of non-birders, particularly those unaccustomed to using binoculars, is the "blackbird" phenomenon. While I would be providing commentary on the colors to note on the bird, the response I would get back from the viewer was "it just looks black to me!". Well of course it sort of did, being so back lit by bright sky. I've heard this a lot more than once, by people more intelligent than I am. Even an Egret looks black flying in front of a full moon at night. It's all relative.

Relativity just goes on and on. How about sound - loud vs soft (Caspian tern vs, goose fart), fast and slow, soft and hard, etc. Like my grandma (another relative) used to say " variety is the spice of life!". I agree.

Jeff Gibson
relatively near the
Anchor Pub
1001 Hewitt Ave
Everett Wa

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