Last month I read a wonderful book, Club George: The Diary of a Central Park Bird-Watcher, about a very charismatic Red-Winged Black Bird with the name of George and how author Bob Levy came to know him.
What made you decide to share George with the public?
Before I wrote Club George I had “produced” another manuscript for publication. I deliberately used the word “produced” because that project, called The Qwerk Werks, involves more than one of the arts and belongs to a genre most widely referred to as the “graphic novel.” That term more often than not evokes an unintended and undesirable inference in the minds of readers unfamiliar with this type of project. I prefer to describe it as an “illustrated novel.”
The Qwerk Werks was my first and only attempt to both write and draw a full-length work of fiction. The narrative is illustrated with my own cartoon characters. When I started it I had little experience with the first skill and virtually none with the second. It would be an exaggeration to say that I taught myself how to write in the process but quite true to say that I taught myself to draw. Drawn in blazing black and white, The Qwerk Werks features my primary character Qwerk but also focuses of Qwerk's identical twin, parents, friends, pets and a small troop of secondary characters. It is funny. What’s not so funny is that a publisher has not snapped up The Qwerk Werks though a few have snapped at it.
What is your favorite George story?
My favorite story is told in Chapter 9: Mutual Trust (p.65-66). Although I make no claim that George could be said to “like” or “befriend” me, I am convinced that I earned his trust, and I have Professor Ken Yasukawa’s analysis to back up my assertion. (Ken Yasukawa, Professor and Chair of Biology at Beloit College, was scientific advisor for Club George). Since the quote is taken out of context I have added comments in brackets to clarify certain points.
When I arrived there [the pond that was George’s breeding territory] I expected the dock to be filled with people on such a glorious day but I found myself the only person there. I did not have to wait for George to arrive. He floated onto his favorite perch at the dock as I was arriving. When he makes his entrance at the same time as I do, as he often does, it is hard not to believe that he came at that moment because he recognized me from a distance. His demeanor was different from his manic persona of yesterday. I supposed I was projecting my own mood onto George, but he too seemed to be in a contemplative mood, if such a mental state exits in birds. He was less animated and far less vocal than he has been of late. I know what you are thinking. Certainly I am anthropomorphizing George again, but be patient with me for a while as I describe George’s behavior and why I felt the way I did about it.
George spent a long period on his perch at the dock quietly surveying his territory and making a soft “chek” call now and then. I stood watching as the breeze blew a few of his breast and nape feathers back and forth over and over again. Yesterday he shunned me but today he barely left my side during the hour and one half I was at the dock. He did leave to briefly forage on his island but mostly he stood perched just above my head. At times he walked a few steps closer to me, leaned over and made a slow series of muted “chek” calls that I took to mean he wanted a snack. I was correct in my interpretation. I also had the feeling that the calm quiet nature of George’s calls meant that he was comfortable being with me. This is not an erroneous assumption on my part. Ken Yasukawa explained that the vocalizations and behavior I observed support the idea that George was indeed at ease. [What follows is Prof. Yasukawa’s interpretation of my description.]
The behavior you describe when you are within a few feet of George indicates that he was not agitated at all by your proximity. The soft “check” calls you describe are part of an alert system. When all is well, the male gives a call every now and then, like the watchtower guard’s “all is well.” If George had been agitated by your proximity he would have switched to a different call and increased the rate of calling.