The Bird Meme: Day 9

Day 9: A bird you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving

This prompt is a little too overstated for accuracy, because I never really believed I wouldn't like the Canyon Wren. On the other hand, I didn't believe I would love it, either--I simply didn't think very much about the Canyon Wren.

I knew what it looked like, mind you; for years I'd seen it sitting on page 305 of my Sibley Guide, and it looked attractive enough. But its range is limited to Texas and states west of it, so it was not a species that I expected to deal with in any important capacity. Maybe I'd log it when I got out west, but in the meantime, I had no good reason to pay attention to it.

That all changed, as you might expect, when I actually encountered one.

Back in March 2010, I accompanied my father and my son Ian on a spring break trip into the wilds of west Texas, specifically because Dad and I were eager to visit Big Bend National Park. I'm not sure how much of this eagerness was shared by Ian, who was 18 and on break from his freshman year at VCU, but we tried to keep him amused by stuffing him full of good food. (He and I were not frequent eaters of beef, but we had to admit that the steaks and burgers in Texas were the best we'd ever had.)

The isolation of Big Bend NP cannot be overstated; the nearest Texas town with a hotel, Marathon, is 25 miles from the park boundary, and about 50 miles from the park headquarters. That would have been a bit of an inconvenience to us even if we'd found a vacancy in Marathon. As it was, we had to settle for the next nearest hotel, which was in Fort Stockton, another 50 miles past Marathon. That left us with over an hour of driving the next morning just to get to the edge of the park, and the best birding was going to be near (or beyond) headquarters. That necessitated rising well before dawn, and well before either of my not-really-all-that-interested-in-birding companions wanted to rise, so I spent the day before focusing far more on planning our travel and soothing my family than I did on any species research.

We came in sight of the park's Chisos Mountain range right around sunup, and we were treated to both the gorgeous desert landscape and a close look at a young javelina on the roadside, which got Ian interested enough to clamber up through the rental car's sun roof for a better look. The birds, however, were keeping a low profile; I logged a single Curve-billed Thrasher at Panther Junction, the park's main intersection, and the rest of our drive into the Chisos Basin was scenic as all get out, but ornithologically uneventuful.

As we took a foot tour of the slopes around the Basin Lodge, however, a number of species (and a great many deer) caught our attention; I logged such lifers as the Rock Wren and Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and even got a brief glimpse of a Mexican Jay. But what was fascinating me most was a clear, distinctive song. And when I got a look at what was making it, I fell in love.

There atop the desiccated branches of a century plant was my first Canyon Wren. The photo doesn't do the colors justice: in the morning light, the creamy white throat faded into salmon and then rich rufous, like an unstirred glass of Thai iced tea. And the song continued, one of the few bird songs I know that can be accurately described without being imitated: it's a series of notes sliding down the chromatic scale. It's simple, distinctive, and rather beautiful, and it will forever remind me of a singular morning with my father and my son. I call that love.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 21, 2017 9:17 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 8 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Bird Meme: Day 10 is the next entry in this blog.

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