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January 2005 Archives


The Pecking Order:
Cashwell Yankee Flipper Feeder, Jan. 2005


10) Ground feeders. Some birds are just too big to use the feeder. Mourning Doves and Blue Jays, in particular, get their seed from the ground below the feeder, where there's plenty of spillage to clean up. Other smaller birds often join them, but usually only when they have to; because there are only four feeding stations on the feeder, it's often less trouble to pick up scraps than to fight for one of the choice spots.

9) Black-capped Chickadees. Smallest of the regular visitors, the Chickadees are easily intimidated by the larger birds. They're fast and acrobatic, though, so they'll sometimes jump off the feeder itself and grab onto the wire supporting it, sort of hovering nearby so they can pop back down for a quick gobble when the larger birds aren't looking.

8) American Goldfinches. Small, but numerous. At times, they seem able to take on the other birds through sheer numbers. In their winter plumage, they're a bit drab, and I sometimes mistake them for sparrows, but once I can see the black wings (or hear their song), they're identifiable. (A few are still a bit yellowish, but only in a drab butterscotch way--nothing like the bold canary coloration of the breeding male.) This is the first time I've added thistle seed into the feeder mix during the winter, and I must say I'm happy with the results, though I do feel a vague English-major annoyance when I see bags boldly labelled "NyjerTM Seed." Okay, you're worried about offending someone with the word "Niger"--why not just call it thistle seed? (And what are we supposed to do about the nations of Niger and Nigeria, anyway? Are they Nyjer and Nyjeria? Or should we be on the safe side and rename them Thistle and Thistleia?)

7) Northern Juncos. Even more numerous than the Goldfinches, and slightly larger. Once the snows hit, these babies are all over the feeder, white bellies and white tail stripes flashing. They're also by far the most numerous birds on the ground under the feeder. They'll chase each other off, and they'll go after the Goldfinches and Chickadees, but they're not organized enough to take on the larger birds, even though they've got the numbers to win; in a way, they're kind of like the American labor movement at present.

6) White-throated Sparrows. Our group of these birds is small--maybe half a dozen--and rather ratty-looking this year. I think a lot of them are young and haven't yet developed the clean lines on their heads and throat that they'll someday have. Right now, the white throats and black-and-white stripes on their heads are all rather drab and smudgy. Or maybe these are really old birds, whose plumage, like the tattoos on an old man, has started fading and sagging. (If Dennis Rodman survives to his seventies, he's going to look like a comic strip printed on Silly Putty.)

5) White-crowned Sparrows. We've got two adults and a few youngsters hanging around, and they're by far the toughest of the small birds. When they land on the feeder's ring, everybody else had better watch out. The adults' crowns are a clean and vivid white, set off by black stripes on either side and a warm pink bill. The juveniles' striping is brown, which sent me off for my field guide when I first spotted one--I thought it might be something exotic. They're beautiful birds, though; shame we don't get them at other times of year.

4) White-breasted Nuthatches. I'd estimate two or three birds make regular visits. The big, bright-plumaged male who was one of the most frequent feeders in December hasn't turned up in a couple of weeks. I don't know if he's found a better place to eat or if he didn't make it through the big snow last week. Since we're scheduled for another winter storm tonight, I'm hoping it's the former.

3) Northern Cardinals. Very common in the area, but a bit irregular in terms of feeder visits. When they show, all the sparrows take off, but the other birds don't seem especially intimidated. In fact, one brilliant-red male just flew up and was joined by a Goldfinch and a Junco. Then everybody in the yard flew off except for the Junco. It's easy to understand where the word "flighty" comes from.

2) Downy Woodpeckers. Smaller than Cardinals but bigger than most everything else, our pair of Downies turn up every so often on the weeping cherry from which the feeder hangs. I see the female more often than the male, and I'm not sure I've seen the male on the feeder at all.

1) Red-bellied Woodpecker. The queen of the feeder is the female I call "Madame Red" after the obnoxious character in Matt Janz's Out of the Gene Pool comic strip. She's beautiful, and I think she's fairly young--the red nape of her neck is bright and clear, and she also has a bit of red just above her beak, making it look like she's a male with a bald patch. (I find myself wondering if this male-like appearance is somehow embarrassing to her. Would she try to wax it away like a mustache? Or does she consider it a badge of honor somehow, like Frida Kahlo's monobrow?) She loves to grab onto the ring, leaning back and leaving her tail directly under the feeder, while she deftly probes a feeding station. In this position, it's actually possible to see the pale red patch on her belly, the usually all-but-invisible field mark that gives her species its name. When she arrives at the feeder, everything else jumps off--they probably think she's a hawk or something. She's a loner, too--if she's got a mate, he's never turned up. Personally, I don't think she has a mate. Maybe she's too butch.

7:15 PM
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Yes.

No, that's not what I mean. This isn't some attempt at a Cliffs Notes version of Molly Bloom's last speech from Ulysses, but rather a consideration of the famous/infamous prog-rock band.

If you're going to pick a band to enjoy, there are easier choices than Yes. For one thing, there's the ongoing problem with the lineup. The group's been in existence since the late 60s, and in the words of David St. Hubbins, "There have been 37 people in this band over the years..." Bassist Chris Squire is the only constant, to my knowledge, the lineup never goes more than two albums without at least one personnel change, and the members seem more numerous than the various Wayans siblings. On drums, Bill Bruford, Alan White, then Bruford AND White, then White. On lead vocals, Jon Anderson, Trevor Horn (briefly), and Anderson again. On guitar, Peter Banks, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin, Rabin AND Howe, then Howe... On keyboards, Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, Wakeman again, Geoff Downes, Kaye again... and I'm not even going to discuss the short-lived "mega-Yes" lineup featuring Bruford, White, Wakeman, Kaye, Howe, Rabin, Squire and Anderson... and the multifarious lineups of the last decade, where nobody even cares anymore... I mean, forget the music, just keeping track of the continuity is like following some kind of X-Men/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover mini-series...

But even if you find a lineup you like--for me it's the one from The Yes Album, with Bruford, Squire, Anderson, Howe, and Kaye, though I can handle the Fragile/Close to the Edge lineup that followed immediately afterwards, with Wakeman replacing Kaye--even if you've got your lineup, there's a hell of a lot of stylistic baggage attached to this band. This is the band that popularized almost every element of prog-rock excess. Run down the checklist, with me:

*Nonsensical pseudo-profound lyrics? Pretty much everything Jon Anderson ever wrote, from "Call it morning driving through the sun and in and out the valley" to "I can feel no sense of measure, no illusion as we take refuge in young man's pleasure."
*Album side-length songs? Start with 1972's "Close to the Edge," then leap in over your depth with the four-song double album Tales from Topographic Oceans. That's four sides, four songs, no waiting. And even then, they weren't done--witness 1976's "The Gates of Delirium" from Relayer.
*Spacey landscape album covers suitable for obsessive examination between bong hits? Oh, mais oui! Artist Roger Dean jumps aboard with 1971's Fragile and the band never looks back to earth. (Caveat: I have a poster of Dean's inside cover for Close the the Edge on my classroom wall.)
*Ludicrous costuming? Well, you've got your Jon Anderson lace cravat from the cover of The Yes Album, the classic Chris Squire mini-cape (short enough so it doesn't get entangled in your Rickenbacker), and of course the classic full-length sequinned Rick Wakeman cape, an article of clothing that once drove Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen to declare that he intended to own as many guitars as Wakeman's cape had spangles.
*Enormously complex time signatures and modulations? The variations are nigh-infinite, but to me, the quintessence is the bit in "Perpetual Change" where Bruford and Howe are stuttering along with a peculiar 7/8 figure that repeats every two measures, and then underneath, they fade up Squire and Kaye playing the song's original riff, the slow, driving measures of 6/4 and 4/4, until you realize they fit together perfectly! Duuuuuuude!
*Mellotrons? Hey, everywhere Rick Wakeman goes, there's a mellotron. In fact, Nielsen once claimed he'd been to a show where Wakeman put on skates and pushed one around an ice rink.

In general, if there's a way to demonstrate rock-star self-indulgence, Yes either pioneered it or popularized it.

And dammit, I like them.

I don't pretend it's logical. There are, I recognize, any number of Yes songs (or moments within songs) that fail utterly as art, as popular music, and certainly as rock & roll. But there are also some songs (and moments therein) where the band, utterly certain of its ability to transcend the limitations of pop, actually manages to do it: the recorder duet on "Your Move," or Wakeman's (dare I say it?) subtle organ entrance on "Awaken," or Howe's ringing chops at his strings in the middle of "Yours Is No Disgrace," or Bruford's peculiarly echoing snare, driving "Roundabout" before it like a coyote turned loose in a herd of merinos. They're moments of sweetness in a genre that's often too concerned with its own toughness. There's something to be said for excess in the service of beauty, even if it is, y'know, excessive.

OK, granted, too much Yes is like a steady diet of Christmas treats, all cheesy and crispy and sugary and nutty at first, but before long, you're ready for something, anything, that has some fucking fiber in it. Sure, I can fully understand how years of having the BBC pump "And You And I" into your brain might make you snap, take up a Telecaster, and thrash out something like "Anarchy in the U.K."

But that means Yes is not only responsible for its own music, but ultimately responsible for punk, new wave, and the vast majority of the music I've liked since high school. Without Yes, there can be no Buzzcocks, no Ramones, no Clash. Without Tales from Topographic Oceans, there can be no London Calling.

So am I ready to make up t-shirts reading Yes: The Only Band That Matters?

Well... no.

10:10 PM
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THINGS YOU CAN DO ON JANUARY 20th

*Wear black.
*Keep the TV off.
*Read Sarah Vowell's delightful essay collection The Partly-Cloudy Patriot.
*Put on a hot funk tune, find a photo of W, put it on the kitchen floor, and dance on it until you feel better.
*Re-read the U.S. Constitution until you feel confident that it still exists.
*Reorganize the sock drawer.
*Mope.
*Take some solace in the knowledge that now Bush has to clean up his own mess in Iraq.
*Plan to retake Congress in 2006.
*Get the phone number for the Canadian embassy--you know, just in case.
*Sulk.
*Toss out those old ZZ Top albums with a deep sigh.
*Drive to D.C. for the Inaugural Parade and turn your back on Bush when he goes by.
*Drive to D.C. for the Inaugural Parade and give him the one-finger salute when he goes by.
*Drive to D.C. for the Inaugural Parade and spend the day trapped in traffic somewhere on I-66 between Gainesville and Manassas.
*Play loud, angry punk songs all day.
*Sing along.
*Make a big, fat donation to the DNC.
*Wonder where Gil Scott-Heron is and why he hasn't done a Bush version of "B-Movie" and "Re-Ron."
*Calculate the number of children uneducated, terrorists uncaptured, and paupers unfed due to spending $40 million on the inauguration.
*Seethe.
*Call a friend.
*Call a Republican friend and ask him why, why, why?
*Call a Republican friend and convert him to the Dark Side.
*Go to the bookshop and misfile all the Ann Coulter books under "Fiction."
*Put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and chant "This is not happening! This is NOT HAPPENING!"
*Click your heels together three times and say "There's no place like home!"
*Fume.
*Gorge yourself on mint chocolate chip.
*Play a game of Risk and take over the world the right way.
*Re-read your collection of Doonesbury books and take note of the fact that Trudeau is funnier when a Republican's in office.
*Walk outside and breathe the cold air of reality.
*Cry.
*Get a guitar and go strum Dylan's "Masters of War" on a street corner.
*Follow it up with R.E.M.'s "World Leader Pretend."
*Wrap up the set with the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away."
*Dissent. It's your right!
*Look at the globe and count up all the countries George Bush doesn't run.
*Kiss somebody for no particular reason.
*Cruelly imagine what junior high school was like for Karl Rove.
*Wave your flag--it's your flag, dammit, not theirs.
*Teach a kid about evolution while you still can.
*Pray.
*Resolve that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom.
*Never forget: this too shall pass.

2:46 PM
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LBJs:

*I spent the weekend at George Mason University with four of my Lincoln-Douglas debaters, and boy is my hand tired. That sounds like an old joke, I know, but it's the simple truth: out of the 14 rounds of debate I could have judged, I judged 13. That's nine hours and forty-five minutes of taking notes (we call it "flowing" in my culture, memsahib) on debates, not counting the additional time to write out the ballots explaining my reasons for awarding the victory to one side or the other. My hand was so swollen and tired that it felt like I had a glazed ham on the end of my wrist. The good news: one of my debaters made it to the final 16 of 57 debaters. The bad news: he got paired with the top seed in the tournament and lost in the round of 16. The other good news: I don't have to judge another debate until our district tournament on January 21.

*Our house seems to attract temporary lodgers of all sorts. My old friend Pete Rogers spent a summer with us back in Chapel Hill, but in recent years, they've been less interested in political science and more interested in birdseed--I'm thinking specifically of Travis the Blue Jay, who has been gone for a couple of months, but who may yet turn up this spring and once more attack his reflection in our sliding glass door. In the meantime, we've spread out our metaphorical welcome mat for yet another connoisseur of bird food, but this time it isn't a bird. No, it's an opossum, pink of tail and pail of fur, and seemingly intent on noshing on spilled seed at roughly midnight every night. I spotted him in the weeping cherry tree out back a week or two back, and since it was Christmas break and the kids were still awake, I called them into my study to look at him. Naturally, the kids insisted on naming him, but their choice was perhaps a little off-putting. In any case, every morning we must now report on his nocturnal adventures: "Hey, guys, I saw Foamy last night!"

*Kel and I have become pretty close to religious about going to the gym over the last month. I've missed a couple of nights due to travel and/or injury, but we've probably made it five times a week since Thanksgiving. I'm sure that's one reason I didn't swell up like a balloon over the holidays. I'm definitely feeling in better shape, and my pants have gotten very baggy in the butt. The only really frustrating thing is that the stubborn body part is--naturally--the part I most want to reduce, my belly. I'm doing crunches along with my work on the elliptical and/or treadmill, honest, but I'm still waiting for that trim, slim physique to appear out from under the built-up layers of lard. It might help if I cut back on the snacks, too.

*The novel--for the moment I'm still leaning toward calling it A Raven for Doves--is sitting at about 80,000 words, which means it's probably about 80-90% done. (Note: that means the first draft is about 80-90% done.) I've got a pretty good idea of what needs to be written, too. At this point, it's more a matter of sitting down and writing it than anything else. We'll see if I can pull that off before March 1st; I've arbitrarily decided I'll try to knock of the remainder before I turn 42. Then again, since my spring break begins on March 6th, perhaps it would make more sense to say that I'll finish it by March 20th, when we come back.

*Kel, the kids and I have taken up the challenge of the slopes, signing up for a family skiing class that meets at Massanutten every Saturday night. It's a ridiculously cheap way to ski for six nights; with lessons, rentals, and lift tickets, it works out to roughly $25 per person per night for the package, and ordinarily lift tickets alone are $22 for a night of skiing. The hard part will be getting the younguns ready; I think they'll take to it, but it's hard to persuade them to take things slowly. It's also hard for me to remember that I'm the only one in the family with experience on skis, so it's not really reasonable (or safe) for me to push them.

This was made clear to me when, after the first lesson Saturday, Dixon wanted to ride the chairlift and take an Easy slope. I went with him to the top of the run called Southern Comfort, which isn't steep, but is pretty long. I hadn't really thought about that last part, and as a result, we had some problems: when Dix fell, as he inevitably did, since it was his first time on the slopes, he a) got very frustrated, and b) had no option but to put his skis back on and keep skiing until he fell down again. It took us roughly an hour to get down to the lodge, at which point they were just about ready to shut down the lifts. I quickly handed Dix off to Kelly, who'd been waiting in the lodge the whole time, and rushed back out to take Southern Comfort myself.

I hadn't skied in over a decade--I think Kelly was just barely pregnant with Ian when I last went--but the basics of stance and motion came back to me pretty quickly during my time on the bunny slope for the lesson. I was confident that I could get Dixon down the hill all right--and except for the one wipeout we suffered when he stepped on my ski as we were getting off the lift, I'd say my confidence was legitimate. Nonetheless, when I made my solo run, I was very cognizant of the fact that I was in no condition to try anything cute--this was an Easy slope, and that was probably a good fit for me after such a long layoff. Sure enough, I was able to pick up good speed and maintain control on the slope, avoiding the scattered bodies of wiped-out snowboarders, but I was also able to keep myself in check--at least until I got near the bottom and ran into the moguls. I hit the mogul field going a bit faster than I'd expected, and when I caught some unexpected air going over one, I made the classic novice mistake: I leaned back. BAM! I hit the next mogul off-balance, and in an instant I was lying on my back a good fifteen feet to the right of my left ski. A helpful young guy passing nearby stopped and shoved it over to me, and I was able to laugh the whole crash off and make my way back to the lodge. I think this week should be a little easier to handle, but I'll be keeping that mogul in mind.

10:01 PM
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Happy 2005, everyone!

As I predicted, my 2004 year list ended at 166 species, which seems pretty piddly compared to the guys in Mark Obmascik's The Big Year, but still represents over 50% of my life list. Of course, I've now started a new year list, which so far has 19 species on it, but I'm sure I'll top 20 pretty soon. (Yesterday's big addition was the Greater Black-backed Gull, several of which were accompanying the hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls currently hanging out at the Orange County Airport.) Before I get too far into the new year, however, I suppose I should finish off the details of the previous year's birding efforts.

Come with me, then, back to December 19th in Cumberland County, NC, childhood home of my beloved, birthplace of my second son, and a place where, for the first time, I was able to help out with a bird count--the day after I'd done the Harnett County count.

Mary Stevens, whom I'd contacted about Saturday's Harnett count, had told me that Cumberland County would be doing its own count the very next day, and that the organizer was Hal Broadfoot, a friend of hers I'd first birded with years ago. Hal, Mary and I made arrangements to meet in a compound just southeast of where I-95 crosses the Cape Fear River--but this time I'd be bringing along an extra pair of eyes: my brother-in-law, Odell Dalton.

Odell is Kelly's oldest brother, a full seventeen years older. He's a veterinarian, probably the best I've ever met, and his practice in Fayetteville has been a highly successful one. He's a workaholic, which is one reason he's been successful, but he's also got one tremendously useful skill that's not always part of a vet's arsenal: he explains things beautifully. After he has examined your animal, he not only understands what the problem is, he lets you understand what the problem is. He'd be terrific in the classroom.

He has also been interested in birds for a long time, primarily as a subject for his painting. His house is filled with oils and watercolors of various species--a Wood Duck here, a pair of Flamingoes there--and every year, he and his wife Linda send out Christmas cards featuring one of his bird paintings. (This year it was a beautiful crimson Cardinal on a dogwood branch.) So far as I knew, though, he'd never done any active birding. Once I'd heard that there would be a Cumberland County count, however, I reasoned that Hal could use a guy who a) knew birds well enough to paint them, b) knew birds well enough to treat them, and c) knew Cumberland County like the back of his hand. And I was right.

I picked Odell up, and after being forced to suffer Linda's morning ministrations--fresh coffee and a breakfast sandwich, the horrors!--we headed out to a chunk of territory Odell seemed to know, but which was unfamiliar to me. Nonetheless, it was stunning: lying somewhere east of NC 87 and west of the Cape Fear, it was hundreds of acres of roads, woods, and fields. Its second most surprising feature, particularly at that hour, was water. Glowing rose and orange ponds and pools seemed to extend all the way to the horizon. Everywhere we looked, the chill air seemed utterly still, leaving the waters free to mirror the light without so much as a ripple. We huddled into our jackets with our eyes wide open.

The most surprising feature, however, was the lack of bird life. Those acres of rippling, gleaming water were uninterrupted by the silhouettes of ducks or geese, and the pines on the shorelines were completely silent. We trudged along a dirt road between ponds, occasionally raising our binoculars in hopes of spotting something, but there was nothing to be seen except the boxy shapes of blinds. This, I realized, was a hunting compound. And judging by the lack of waterfowl, I reasoned that the members who maintained it might be a litle too good at hunting.

Eventually we came upon a pond of several acres, and even with the sun directly in our faces we could see that there were birds on the water. Odell and I immediately fell into the roles we would maintain for the rest of the day: he obtained the data and I crunched it. He called out a count of twenty-two birds on the water, but wasn't sure what they were. I was blinking into the dawn light, unable to do much more than pick out a few silhouettes, but those silhouettes showed distinctive motion: the head-bobbing stroke of the American Coot. A new bird for Odell, and therefore one that he now felt he could paint; he doesn't mind basing his artwork on photographs, but he won't do a painting of a bird he's never seen.

Hal and Mary were on the far side of that pond, as it happened, and once they'd come around and set up Hal's spotting scope, we were able to get a better look at the Coots, as well as the other birds on the water: several Pied-billed Grebes, a Ruddy Duck, and a couple of decoys that gave us a bit of trouble for a few minutes. Hal and Odell had a passing acquaintance, as it turned out, and they chatted a bit about common Fayetteville experiences while Mary and I kept poking around for birds that to all appearances simply weren't there.

Luckily, Mary had also brought along a useful birding tool: a tape player with a recording of a Screech Owl's wavering cry. This she set off in a narrow lane of trees between two ponds, and the results were startling: songbirds descended on us as if we were throwing out seed. Within five minutes, we had logged multiple Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebirds, White-breasted Nuthatches, Swamp Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Best of all, several tiny Brown-headed Nuthatches popped up, issued their nasal peernt! calls, and flitted off; I had become fond of them during my years in the Fayetteville pine forests, but they don't venture into the woods around my current home, so it had been a full decade since I'd seen one.

We trudged through the woods, scaring up the occasional Cardinal, a Cedar Waxwing or two, some Rufous-sided Towhees, an Eastern Phoebe (whose obvious tail-wagging gave Odell a new means of identification) and even a Pileated Woodpecker, until eventually we reached the bank of the Cape Fear, where all was silent and cold. The sun had been obscured by clouds, and the temperature had dropped to boot. We turned around and went back to my car. Hal had to head out for a nephew's christening, but he suggested a couple of spots we might want to investigate and left us his scope.

Mary, never one to adhere needlessly to instructions, climbed into my back seat and issued some of her own: we were going to get some coffee. Odell offered to have us over to his place, so I cranked the engine, turned on the heater, and was alarmed by the chime of Mary's cell phone. It was Hal; he'd seen a flock of blackbirds in a field on the way out of the compound, and he was hoping we could take a look at them. Mary assured him that we would do so, carefully saying nothing about coffee, and after a mile or so, we came across the flock in question and pulled over. Our estimate was 500 birds--about 60 percent European Starlings, five or ten percent Red-winged Blackbirds, the rest Common Grackles. As we stood on the side of the road, however, a small brownish bird flitted over the blacktop and into the winter field on our right. Mary called for me to ID it, and with a squint through my binoculars, I spotted it: small and streaked, obviously a sparrow, but with an odd field mark or two. There was a white eye-ring, for one, and a hint of white on the outer sides of the tail. I peered more closely, until the bird flitted up and further into the field.

"Vesper Sparrow!" I called out.

This got Mary running--it would be a lifer for her. Unfortunately, I'd lost the bird in the remarkably brown and streaky winter vegetation of the field. Mary couldn't find it either--but we had reckoned without the observational powers of the artist. In a few moments, Odell was looking right at the bird, and was calling out the field marks as calmly as if he were examining it in his office. "I can definitely see the white eye-ring. And there's some white on the tail, too..."

"Where is it?" said Mary, pointing her binoculars all about with no more success than I was having.

"Damn, I wish we had a scope..." I said, and as soon as I'd said it, I remembered that we did. Praying the bird would stay put, I quickly hustled Hal's scope out of the back of the Forester, set it up, and started looking for the bird.

Odell's directions were so precise that they verged on the comical. "Okay, there's a patch of green out there, and then a patch of brown, and then another patch of green. Right at the back of the patch of brown, there's a cornstalk that's bent into an inverted U, leaning slightly to the right. The bird's right in front of that, right next to a big pale bit of corn husk..." But sure enough, there was the sparrow, right next to the big whitish husk, and with the added magnification of the scope, the field marks were clear: it was a Vesper Sparrow.

We all took a good long look, reveling in our mutual triumph. Had one of us failed, we would never have spotted or identified the bird, but with all of us pitching in, we had a new life bird to share. While we were stopped there, Mary wandered across the road and spotted another beauty--a Fox Sparrow, its lovely red-brown streaks practically glowing--but I think we all felt that the Vesper Sparrow had been the day's great work.

Well, almost. In many ways, I felt the day's great work had been getting Odell out on a count. By the end of the morning, though he was cold and tired and footsore, he had clearly been delighted to be out in the field, and I was happy to pass along my own little obsession. On the other hand, perhaps the day's great work was accomplished at Odell's house, when Mary, a steaming cup of Linda's coffee in her hand, spotted the beautiful painting of the Belted Kingfisher that hangs over the landing on the way to the den.

"That's my favorite bird!" she cried.

I smiled. "Look at the name in the corner," I said, and pointed to where it said "Dalton 2004."

I don't know whether I got more pleasure out of Mary's sincere astonishment and delight or Odell's quiet aw-shucks beaming. But it was a good day's work all around.

3:42 PM
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