CBC Docs POV·Point of View

Why punk music and birdwatching belong together

Paul Riss loves birdwatching and listening to punk — and finds they might be the perfect combination to handle life’s stresses

Paul Riss loves birdwatching and listening to punk — and finds they might be the perfect combination

(Dream Street Films)

When people think of birdwatchers, they think exactly of what you're thinking of right now — someone in the twilight of their lives, sporting a Tilley hat and fishing vest, gingerly wandering the woods and peering through binoculars. Well, they'd be right and wrong at the same time. 

You see, I've been a birdwatcher — or birder, as we call ourselves — since I was about 11. I used the pastime to explore nature and, I guess, it probably helped me deal with the problems of childhood, which seem pretty silly as an adult but were real to me back then. As I got older, the problems seemed worse and worse, and birds didn't always help with the stress of being a teenager. But metal and punk music sure did. 

I fell in love with heavy music. The faster the better; the louder the better. This new love didn't seem as if it gelled well with my first love of birding. But I wasn't the most popular kid in high school, and heavy music and birdwatching didn't help, so I kind of had nothing to lose. I went deeper into both worlds, mostly by myself.

Today, as a middle-aged father of twins and a founding partner of my own advertising agency, both birding and punk are still a huge part of my life. I still use them to deal with what seem like much more real stressors than when I was younger, but they also help me with creativity. Birds are an endless supply of supernatural inspiration, and punk is an endless supply of creative ideas that help me push boundaries and go against the grain — essential in what I do for a living. 

Paul takes his daughter bird watching and explains how when you are passionate about something, you take care of it, for generations to come. 0:41

Birding is a way to explore the natural world and your place in it. Punk is a way to explore the human world and your place in that. They're more alike than dissimilar, and I personally couldn't live without either of them. They both require studying what's come before them. They both require a lot of DIY work ethic, and you'll only get out what you put in. They both have strong communities that I've become a part of. So the way I see it, being a "punk birder" is the perfect combination.

On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Paul meets a young 'bird nerd' who is all about classic rock, surfing, and birding. 0:53

For a long time, I thought I was alone. But I was very wrong. I've met so many punks who are birders and consider them to be close friends — friends I wish I'd had in my teen years. Life would have been grand had I known them in those days. In early May, we'd have gone straight from a Minor Threat show — ears ringing, shirts still drenched in sweat — to searching for the spring migration's first bay-breasted warbler. What a strange and wonderful idea. So I say, be a birder; be a punk. It's an amazing way to spend your time.


Watch Rare Bird Alert on CBC Docs POV

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