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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rob Bijlsma, Honey Buzzards and Music

I am reading the book "My Birds of Prey" ("Mijn roofvogels") by Rob Bijlsma. Rob Bijlsma is famous in our family - I tell the children stories about his adventures with birds of prey (especially honey buzzards - Dutch: Wespendief), hunters, foresters and his famous friend Theunis Piersma who knows Everything About the Knot (Dutch: Kanoetstrandloper). How surprised they were to learn that Rob Bijlsma as well as Theunis Piersma were not inventions of my mind but actually existing persons, who indeed know everything about honey buzzards and knots, respectively. Add to that that Bijlsma is photographed usually while sitting in the top of a tree, looking like a sorcerer or wizard with his long hair, and you can imagine their fascination.

Bijlsma's book is a great book. Bijlsma is a born researcher with the tendency to start adding up or subtracting anything he stumbles across and wants to know more about: the number of wasps per summer, the number of mice in his garden, the growth per day of young honey buzzards; if he falls out of a tree he can't resist to figure out with which speed he touched the ground, given his weight, the height of the tree and gravity in general (about 50 km/hr, it turns out to be). The nice thing is that he counts and describes, but resists the tendency of much researchers to interpret correlations as causal correlations, basically because he knows by experience that nature is far more complex than you think it is - actually he warns that when a correlation seems causal you almost certainly may dismiss the possibility of causality.

I wrote earlier on music and birds, quoting the reverend Gilbert White writing about the tonality of the hooting of owls. Bijlsma is not that kind of man, but music occasionally figures in his book. Fittingly, he mentions John Lee Hooker with Alan `Blind Owl' Wilson as well as Jefferson Airplane's 'High Flyin' Bird'. But the nicest quote on music is his explanation of why the honey buzzard reminds him of Lou Reed: he once took care of a young honey buzzard of which he was sure it was a male, until it turned out to be female: "he was a she" (`Take a Walk on the Wild Side'). And he ends with the notice that even the sound to make contact with a honey buzzard fits the song: "doo do do do do doo do do".

Rob Bijlsma. Mijn roofvogels. Amsterdam: Atlas, 2012. 

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