Sometimes, if you’re really fortunate, you do more than just see a bird; you see a bird with a loved one
Published: October 21, 2011
|Think about the birds you have seen. Chances are, the memories they elicit will be quite varied. |
Some birds no doubt will have been observed in a deliberate and expected way, but others will have a special quality. They might include a bird you chased for years, an endangered species you finally had a chance to glimpse, or a bird you shared with someone special. I call the special sightings birding moments.
Recall some of your birding moments: the first Pileated Woodpecker, a skulking Connecticut Warbler, or that Peregrine Falcon you shared with your son.
What about the Marbled Godwit on your list? If you are like me, you worked hard for that bird — and for several years. I remember the day well: As we drove through North Dakota pothole country, the two-track road next to a slough looked passable, but it wasn’t. After some ingenious engineering, we were free. Muddy and hot, we took time to survey our car, gulp some water, and scan the horizons, hoping for anything — maybe a Ferruginous Hawk.
Then two large shorebirds came in and dropped into the grass, at a distance but easily within view of a scope — Marbled Godwits. I’ll never forget that sloppy day or the blessed slough that held us up long enough to see those special birds.
Many factors can make birding special. Sometimes it’s helping someone else have a great experience, even if it involves a bird that’s rather common for you. Years ago, while teaching a community bird course, I was discussing an upcoming field trip when one of the members, Gerald, told me he wouldn’t be coming. His Parkinson’s was making walking too difficult. I assured him that we would spend most of our time close to the cars and strongly encouraged him to come. Finally, he agreed.
At one of our stops, we had an Eastern Bluebird on a branch — but some distance away. Gerald saw the bird through binoculars, but I wanted him to have a closer view. So I put a spotting scope on it and hoped it would stay for a few more moments. It did. But it was difficult for Gerald to navigate around the tripod and get a clear look without bumping the scope.
Finally, I was able to anchor the scope more securely with Gerald standing by the eyepiece. He leaned into the ocular with pursed lips, which turned into a broad grin when he saw the bluebird filling the field of view. He was ecstatic, and so was I.
Relived over and over
After starting Birder’s World (now BirdWatching), I would return to my hometown in North Dakota, where all of my mother’s friends had become “birders.” The most special was Mary, my mother’s cousin, who was raised on a homestead next to my mother’s.
At the time, Mary was in an apartment, older, and didn’t get out much because the polio she had contracted as a youngster had left her with little use of her legs. Special crutches helped her
She recognized a number of birds while growing up on the farm, but she had never gone birding, she told me, and now she wanted to go.
We decided to visit her homestead and drive the pastures. They had never seen the blade of a plow, and the view was great — grass, buttes, gullies with a creek, and a slough. Our most common bird was the Chestnut-collared Longspur.
The grass was short to mid, and a sprinkling of taller forbs created an abundance of perches. Longspurs were all over. By using our car as a moving blind, we were able to observe a variety of species. Her biggest thrill was finding the nest of a Grasshopper Sparrow.
Not long after that, Mary couldn’t go out. But every time I went home, we had coffee and something baked, and we relived the never-to-be-forgotten “birding” trip. That day she had several birding moments, which I shared. Her excitement never topped mine.
Share your moment!
Have you had a birding moment? Tell Editor Chuck Hagner about it! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “Birding Moments” in the subject line.
Perhaps my favorite birding moment was with my daughter Laura. She asked if I had time to spend most of a day in the field. I assured her that I did. It was a father-daughter day of the best kind. What we saw wasn’t nearly as important as sharing the experience.
The bird that won the day was a Snowy Owl. It was an adult male, all white, perched close and in plain view. The bird was facing us but turned a bit so the left wing and tail, at the level of the feet, flared slightly behind the body — like a gown that was dragging on the floor, or a train.
The immaculate owl reminded me of the long white dress hanging in Laura’s closet. You see, she was getting married in four days, and she wanted to spend a final day with me, on my turf. The day was special in a hundred ways, and we both saw the dress in the owl. A father just had the mother of all birding moments and a renewed appreciation for those amazing birds.
Eldon Greij is professor emeritus of biology at Hope College, located in Holland, Michigan, and the founding editor of Birder's World (now BirdWatching) magazine.|
Read more by Eldon Greij.