Monday, 20 May 2024

Tuleyome Tales: Getting the picture

A nuthatch perched on a log. Photo by Ian Markham.


“Whi-Whi-Whi!” the agitated trilling, followed by the vehement hammering of a tiny beak, jolted me from my near-comatose stupor. I yanked my eyes from their vacant staring at the math book in front of me to discover the source of that startling noise which had erupted from just above my head.

Instinctively brushing aside my books and reaching for my camera, I turned and followed the tiny shower of bark that alighted upon my head to find myself face-to-face with a jittery and insolent little bird. It became abundantly clear in that brief period as we blinked at each other in bewilderment that the little nuthatch had chosen this precise moment to dislodge her prize from the tree branch above me, and was offended by my intrusion into what she undoubtedly saw as more meaningful work.

In one deliberate motion I leveled the camera at my harasser and broke my gaze for just a moment to peer down into the viewfinder. “NOOOO!” a voice inside of me screamed as I realized I had done it again. Rather than finding the beautiful image I had meant to capture, my eyes were greeted by the abysmal darkness of the inside of my lens cap.

By the time I had looked up and removed the cover, the little bird was flitting triumphantly across Lake Solano, taunting me audibly around the hefty seed lodged in its bill. I couldn’t resist. The bird had vanquished all hope of returning to my neglected math homework so I grabbed my binoculars and prepared for pursuit.

This marked the end of yet another misguided attempt to multi-task and study for a math test in the great outdoors, but was the beginning of a chase that resulted in my eventually getting the picture of the nuthatch, with a bonus opportunity to watch a red-shouldered hawk devour a red-shafted flicker.

So what’s it like to be a young naturalist these days balancing the commitments of high school with a commitment to nature? With fistfuls of anecdotes like this to draw from, you can probably see why I’d answer the question offhand with the curt response, “frustrating!”

In a life burdened with innumerable obligations, constantly torn between finishing homework, studying for tests, preparing for SATs, researching colleges, carousing with friends and running to rugby practice, at times it seems scarcely possible to pay homage to my true passion.

My frequent attempts to enjoy Mother Nature in convenient conjunction with other necessary tasks like rushing through the Yolo Basin on the way to rugby in Sacramento or heading down to Lake Solano to study for an impending math test most often end fruitlessly. You can only enjoy yourself so much with deadlines nipping at your heels and distracted study time is often more harm than help. So why do it then? Why make the sacrifices to scrape together a few hours and go hiking every other weekend?

In truth, there was a time I had no answer for these questions and that bit of my life withered and wasted away with neglect. I ignored my impulses to escape into nature and they became muffled in the back of my mind. Yet, inevitably, I suffered for that denial of my true self. My mind became fraught with a listless urge to escape and get away. Finally I did.

I fled school for a summer abroad in the jungles of Southeastern Peru researching rain forest fish beside my brother, and was overawed by those wonders we found. I lived, for two months, a blissful life exploring the amazing intricacies of Amazonian ecology and was reinvigorated by the experience. I had found the contentment that had so often eluded me, and as the summer came to a close I refused to let it dissipate.

Seizing upon the spark of ornithological fascination I had acquired in one of the best birding hot spots in the world, I kindled it into a fully-fledged love of bird watching to bring home with me. Upon arrival in San Francisco, I bought myself a copy of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds and began to fervently familiarize myself with those creatures whom I had ignored most my life but had now resolved to befriend.

Soon I was hopelessly hooked, dashing about between the many spectacular natural areas in our region from the Yolo Basin to Grey Lodge Wildlife Refuge, from trails high up Cache Creek to the Stebbin’s Cold Canyon reserve below Monticello Dam in pursuit of my feathered friends. Stalking about with camera and binoculars I became intimately acquainted with the land’s winged residents.

Even the onset of school couldn’t stop my expeditions to the beautiful wildlife habitats of the region. I discovered that I simply couldn’t deny the important facet of my life which exploring nature has always been. I realized that it was television shows and lethargy that could be sacrificed to make room for better entertainment and more soothing relaxation.

My hikes, birding expeditions, and even my simple sorties about my own country property have yielded a consummate satisfaction without parallel. While they do add extra time commitments to an already full schedule, their cathartic influence more than makes up for lost time by boosting my productivity.

The only real burden that my nature going has placed on my life remains the sadness I feel when reflecting on how few of my peers appear to share my same love. Or maybe, like me, it is in them waiting to be discovered.

But I’ve never been one to wallow. I’m taking the torch and attempting to pass on my love of the natural world to anyone I can. In my school’s environmental club I am spearheading the movement to make regular club field trips to wildlife areas and I try to volunteer with the Yolo Audubon Society’s Education program for school kids in Esparto, when I can.

For those of you who already share my passion, I encourage you to do what you can to pass it on. For those of you who don’t, I suggest giving it a try. The wonders of the natural world have brought me an endless source of entertainment and satisfaction as I have never known before, and they are right here in front of our faces.

Ian Markham is a Yolo County resident and a Junior at Christian Brothers High School. He frequently enjoys the Cache Creek area. Tuleyome Tales is made possible by Tuleyome, a nonprofit working to protect both our wild heritage and our agricultural heritage for future generations. Visit them online at



A red shouldered hawk devours a flicker. Photo by Ian Markham.




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