Friday, August 1, 2014

Oystercatcher Body Art

I am particularly fond of American Oystercatchers.  These distinctive birds, with their large orangey-red bills and candy-corn eye rings, are extravagant with their nature-made body art!  And I’ll admit that some of my fondness for Oystercatchers has to do with the fact that they are exclusively coastal inhabitants.  I’ve got a soft spot for other Gulf Coasties. 

From my birding knothole, American Oystercatchers were, for many years, a reliable sighting on the East Beach of Galveston (along with the equally distinctive Black Skimmer).  But East Beach was terribly decimated with Hurricane Ike, and seems both of these species have taken a liking to the more protected bayside waters offered by the Texas City Dike.
This particular Oystercatcher that caught my eye, on a May-day Dike trip, sported three leg bands.  If I knew more about the banding, I’d share.

The Houston Audubon Society’s website provides a high level summary of banding, oriented toward tracking movement and numbers of birds, which makes sense.  But the web link they include, for more detailed information, is a “broken” link to a web page “for sale”—so I stopped that search.  If anyone knows the specifics of these bands, I’d love to hear from you.

What I really wanted to mention with these photos is not the banding, but the unique “body art” that seems somewhat “over the top” in terms of bill and eye-area marking.  The Oystercatcher is mostly a black and white bird (with girly-pink legs).  But they proudly display a neon bright bill and eye marking that makes photographic development difficult!  Can't you just imagine the heads that would turn if these birds walked through shopping malls alongside groups of human teenagers?

And so as often happens when I’m watching birds, my thoughts turn to humans and human behavior.

I find the human age-old love for body art to be fascinating.  I personally have no tattoos.  I have no body piercings except for an earring hole in each ear (that has probably closed up as I haven’t worn ear rings since retiring).  Last time I put on ear rings and looked in the mirror, I looked ridiculous.  (And this statement is coming from a woman who sports a huge, funny-looking hat whenever in the sun.)

I’m amused by the strong opinions I hear from others about tattoos and body piercing.  I’ve listened to a number of different women, wearing a boat-load of face paint (makeup), express a particular tisking about the wrongness of tattoos.  I mostly keep my mouth shut.  But sometimes I offer up the concept of tattoos being makeup that the bearer doesn’t have to reapply every day.
I don’t hold any negative opinions about tattoos, unless of course, as with some bumper stickers, the intent is in some way a statement of meanness or prejudice.  But I don’t think that is the common intent of tattoos.  And I’m fascinated by the common intent!

So my fare warning to those openly sporting body art: don’t be surprised if I ask about it, with good-spirited interest!

A few weeks ago I was getting new eye glasses, and the lady fitting me was (I’d guess) in her mid-fifties.  She was sporting what looked like a brand-new tattoo on her forearm.  It looked like an infinity sign (sideways 8), but it had a number of “swirls” coming out of the curves.

You guessed it, I asked her about it.  Well, Athena, as I learned her name, was delighted to tell me about it!  And what a story:  she has five female friends that go all the way back to high school.  Some are married; some divorced; some always single.  The six of them consistently get together each year, for all these years, and visit different places in the U.S.

The six female friend’s most recent get-together was in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  And all six ladies, in their mid-fifties, lined up for their very first tattoos.  They  requested a tattoo of an infinity symbol to represent their eternal friendship; and six swirls coming out of it, one for each of the six friends.  How cool is that!

What I’d give to have five life-long friends; but what they’d have to accept about me is that I’d NOT have lined up for the tattoo.  Not because of any moral or social or otherwise issues; but ONLY because I have terribly sensitive skin, and so I’d be THE ONE to have a reaction to the dye.  (And then there is the fact that I’m terribly wrinkled which doesn’t make my skin a great canvas for body art!)

I will share my ONE opinion on this topic; my opinion has to do with “young people” wanting body art as a form of rebellion or protest of their childhood home.  I consistently tell them two things:  First, wait until you are purchasing the tattoo or piercing on YOUR nickel, that YOU earn when you ALREADY have to pay for a roof over your head and food in your belly.  

Living with mom and dad, or other care giver, and using allowance or work or gift money doesn’t count.  Earn your taxable income; pay your way for a roof over your head, and then get that tattoo if you like. 

My point to teens, in past years working with them, is that the “popular” acts of “rebellion” are market and advertising driven.  Those tattoos and piercings cost money.  Those boy-band hairstyles with mousse-loaded hair cost money.  Makeup and such costs money. 

When was the last time that something as “rebellious” as teenage girls STOPPING the shaving of their legs was a popular statement of teenage rebellion?  Well, never.  Why?  The market would never advertise NOT shaving legs or arms as cool acts of rebellion.  No razors, no shaving cream, no lotions or such to sale.  No; nature-made body art would not be marketed.

When I have opportunity, I just ask young folks to think about it before spending money on self expression.  And I ask WE old folks to see the beauty in personal expression, when no harm or waste or mean spirit is to be found.

And if we have opportunity to lift up a young person’s angst, with a listening spirit and gentle heart, maybe we can get them to think OUT OF the box—that their rebellion is often marketed by advertising, for profit.

Such are the thoughts that run through my head, quietly watching the beautifully unique body art of a Gulf Coastie:  the American Oystercatcher.

Have a wonderfully self-expressed day!


  1. I well remember my first sighting of the american oystercatcher! I was so very excited and still feel that excitement as I look at you photos!

    1. Hi Hazel! Thanks for your comment to my blog today and I was VERY glad to see my two comments to your most recent blog post made it to you. I've commented multiple times on your recent past blogs and never saw them posted. And as I've been sporadic with posting to my blog, I wasn't sure if no one was reading and commenting--or if comments weren't getting through to me. So seeing your comment this morning was encouraging! Thanks!


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