On a sticky summer morning, Jorge Garcia waits in a park on the northwest side.
He hopes to hear a distinctive beep or spy on a flicker of wings just in time to capture the fleeting beautiful moment in a photo.
“Bird watching helps ease my mind. It kind of helps me calm down and center myself a bit,” Garica said. “For me, birdwatching was very solitary for a long time. It was a peaceful experience, a mindful experience for me. Mindful exercise.
Jorge Garcia hasn’t always been a bird paparazzi – in fact, he’s only been working there for a few years, after an upgrade to his equipment for his job as a technologist took an unexpected turn.
“That was when I bought this camera, I had bought it during the pandemic. I wanted to improve the video output of my Zoom calls. So I started deliberately trying to take more photos with this camera and to get more acclimated to this camera,” he said. “I started buying old lenses to try to experiment and I started trying to find subjects to shoot with that. I wasn’t quite sure what it would be. And it ended up being birds.
The budding interest quickly turned into a hobby in its own right.
“Suddenly I got to know the birds. I was listening to the birds, learning their behavior and their calls, their names,” Garcia said.
He also began printing and selling postcards of his bird portraits to support the US Post Office.
“Back when the Postal Service was attacked, when they started taking the machines apart, I thought, well, I want to do postcards now – anything I can do to support the Post Office , maybe it’s a small way that I can do it,” he said.
And as his newfound interest took off, he began to branch out and seek community – although as a young Latino, he himself was a bit of a rare bird in those circles.
“The first group I found was a North Park Village Nature Center. I started making a lot of friends from that space and hang out with them frequently. Now it’s a Saturday regular for me. “Said Garcia. “From time to time there will be other Latinx individuals there, but I’m definitely on the younger side.”
Although Garcia says he has always felt welcome in birding groups, his presence taking photos has drawn unwanted attention in some communities.
“Once a policeman stopped me while I was driving and searched me for firearms and all I had was a camera,” he recalls. “I started carrying this bag that kind of advertised that I was shooting birds.”
Still, he says birdwatching is a hobby everyone can and should pursue, even in the city.
“It’s not always about watching, but about listening. Your backyard is the perfect place to start, down your alley,” Garcia said. “There are lots of birds everywhere. When I left this morning to meet you in front of my tree there was a goldfinch and a chickadee. There’s a junco during the winter that I love to see and follow when they come in and when they leave town.
And, says Garcia, with time and patience, maybe you too can capture a fleeting beautiful moment.
“Once in a while, there’s just going to be this bird that gives me this really nice experience that shows exceptional behavior, unusual behavior that I haven’t seen,” he said. “That kind of moment when the bird, it was almost like the bird let me take a picture of it. It was a moment I would remember.”