Betting my retirement on Avian Select Fund 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
OK. There's no such fund. But apparently there should be.
A New York Times reporter recently visited Central Park with Peter Mott, president of the Big Apple's Audubon chapter, and discovered first-hand how birding skills encompass talents that successful investors also employ.
In his story, birder initiate Harry Hurt cites a November 2002 Harvard Business Review interview with David Sibley, of the famed Sibley Guides, and fellow birder Dr. Julia Yoshida. Hurt goes on to quote the interview and, in the last sentence of the excerpt below, adds a personal observation:
"Bird watching, of all the natural pastimes, is most like business in terms of the cognitive demands pattern recognition requires. Birders have very little to go on in identifying the birds they see. Most birds, after all, are small, fast-moving creatures, whose survival often depends on their ability to escape detection. Most birders have to learn to see as much as they can in a matter of seconds." I reckoned much the same could be said of hedge fund managers.
Stocks, bonds and birds: The hubby and I watch both birds and our portfolio, and we've done OK at both. But bird watching is infinitely more enjoyable.
I never really thought of the similarities between the two endeavors before, but I definitely can see the birding analogy. Especially in those times when we watched an investment nosedive as madly and unpredictably as a sparrow trying to elude a hawk.
And it's a good thing that our investments have generally been successful, since we're among the 85 million Americans the Fish & Wildlife Service says spend more than $5 billion a year on travel, optics and other bird-related merchandise.
We're not the biggest contributors to the billion-dollar total, but we've spent, and still spend, our fair share. While almost every trip we take is related at least in part to birding, we've never made an outrageously expensive trek just to glimpse some rare species making an unexpected appearance way out of its normal habitat range.
Several years ago, though, on a trip to the Florida Keys, we were serendipitously treated to an unusually varied group of migrants that had also dropped by the rocky islands when tropical storms forced flocks to seek other travel routes.
And we've got our multiple binoculars and spotting scope, not to mention hiking boots and books and artwork.
But we've also gotten a darn good return on our birding investment. The pursuit gets us out of the house. Or, as related here, provides exercise in our house on occasion!
Birding also has introduced us to many places we might not otherwise have visited. Thanks to the chance to see puffins or spoonbills or oystercatchers or magpies, we got there.
But the true worth of our birding investment is an intangible value. Birds just make us happy.
Every time I watch them, be it gannets covering a crag off the Newfoundland coast or the fighter squadron of barn swallows that swoop in for brief landings on our garage door frame or a solitary wren just busying himself in our backyard shrubs, I have to smile.
That contentment is definitely priceless.
Hawkeye Paulson: The NYT piece cited above also mentioned in passing that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is a fan of hawks. I found this Washington Post article that gives a bit more detail on Paulson's hawkwatching and other outdoor recreational pursuits.
Apparently, when Paulson was at Goldman Sachs, each year he would arrange for a rare bird to visit the firm and he invited 25 employees to come to the 30th-floor boardroom to meet the avian guest. I wonder if he'll continue that tradition in Washington. If so, I'd love to see that invitation list, as well as Paulson's life list of "office" birds.
Bird song: Nothing can compare with the exuberant singing of birds. Even that mockingbird that this spring serenaded us for several nights, all night long each time, was a delight.
A lot of birders are able to identify species simply by their songs or calls. The hubby and I aren't in that class. We know the basic ones, but in most instances we prefer to get at least of glimpse of the singer before we make a definite ID.
Mainly, though, when it comes to birding by ear, we just want to enjoy the melodies.
So did composer Olivier Messiaen. He believed birds are the greatest musicians and considered himself as much an ornithologist as a composer. He incorporated birdsong transcriptions into much of his music.
The video below is a brief concert of Messiaen's "Liturgie de cristal." His work is a bit of an acquired taste, but I grant him much leeway because of his love of birds' songs.
You can hear more Messiaen samples here, including the composer himself explaining how birds and music unite in his work. Enjoy, and then go for a walk and catch a live performance of some of his inspirations.
Banaquit and Pelican photos courtesy of luisrock62/morgueFile.com
Golden-cheeked warbler photo courtesy of Balcones Canyonland Preserve, Austin/Travis County (RealPlayer video)
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