Saturday, May 16, 2015

No Tits For You!


It was Birdathon Day and I was up in time to hear the dawn crack. The team was gathered by the bird van, hard by a woodsy urban park. I had my plan in place. At the stroke of seven, I hollered "SCRUB JAY! HOUSE FINCH! CHICKADEE!" and relaxed. My work here was done. Time to let the experts take over.

The van was something. It was a brand-new rented wonder with only a few miles on it. In retrospect, it looked a little like the vehicle that transports people to the pokey, and the BIRDATHON magnet on the back was just a little soothing ruse, like when you tell the kids that you're taking Buster Dog to the farm. But all twelve of us jammed into it just fine along with our lunches and binoculars and three spotting scopes. We were going for 100 species, and we were ready to roll.

We knocked off about thirty species in the park; tacked on a few more in a rest area; and had 69 in the bank by 10:30. This was easy!

It got harder.

Especially since this year our intrepid leaders Sarah and Max took us down the Willamette Valley, for a change, to sparrow territory, and we never got near the coast. At the coast, birds fly right out of the field guide and onto our checkoff lists in alphabetical order. There would be no seabirds for us today, but there were plenty of ducks and long-legged jobs that make a living poking their faces in the mud, not that I'm judging. We eked out a few more at every stop. Just when we thought we couldn't get any harrier, we did. But it was getting hot. Stupid hot, for Oregon, for May. By the time it was a hundred and fifty in the shade, all the sensible nesting birds had gone home to make sure their eggs weren't getting poached. Ha ha! That's a little bonus double-entendre bird humor for you, there.

Our intrepid leaders are as ethical as they are skilled, and they declined to count my Imaginary Woodcock, my Western Eastern Phoebe, or my Least Sanitary Pigeon, and they similarly failed to ink in the massive emu we all saw glowering behind a fence ("that's livestock"), which should by itself have counted for ten species plus a hadrosaur. I personally spotted the Lazuli Bunting I was hoping for, which buoyed me greatly, although it's possible I called it a bluebird, out loud.

But we were still missing many likely candidates. Sparrows were sparse. With time running out we were still nine shy of our goal of one hundred.

Well, shoot, it's just an arbitrary number anyway. It's only an accident of nature that we humans evolved ten fingers before the invention of the table saw. So we want things in groups of ten. Still, although I'd never call us Angry Birders, we hurtled home fired up and ready to bird hard to the end. With one last swing through the urban park in fading daylight, we failed to scrape the missing bushtits and nuthatches out of the trees, but scored an owl, a wren, and the briefest of hawks, and finished the day with 98. That's close. That's real close.

And, especially after the can of giant cashews made its fourth trip around the van, we were all starting to round up.

If you want to see the Honor Roll of my sponsors for this year's Birdathon, click here. And although I made my fundraising goal and then some, it's not too late to drop some change in the bucket!


Photo by Max Smith's camera even though Max is in it

27 comments:

  1. I would love to participate in a like event. My knowledge of birds is slightly above normal and probably a bit below yours, but my level of appreciation is very high.

    I do have to confirm however...

    "We knocked off about thirty species in the park; tacked on a few more in a rest area; and had 69 in the bank by 10:30. This was easy!

    It got harder."
    You are talking about birding aren't you?

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    1. Even if I wasn't, it would still have been a fun day. Hey, you should go on a birding field trip. I'll bet you can find someone leading one near you.

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  2. The sparrows were scarce in sparrow territory? Is there a worrying story there or were the sparrows just being shy?

    I'm glad you made your fundraising goal - no thanks to me, I'm sad to say. The only time I sent money to the US it cost me almost $25 just to send it, never mind the amount I actually wanted to pay. If I were a rich gal ... hopefully someday.

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    1. We think the sparrows were too hot. Next year I think I'll set up some kind of funnel to my personal PayPal account for furriners to contribute. And I'd just write a check to Audubon. I think that would avoid those fees, wouldn't it? (I don't really know how anything works.)

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    2. Probably? Maybe?

      I don't know how anything works either. Except the fee I paid was to send a cheque in US dollars. I don't have a paypal account and I don't use our credit card on the internets. I am a financial technology luddite.

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  3. Well done! Having participated in BT3's 100 at NRBNF this year, I hear you on the "it gets harder." Boy, were those last few ever hard to get. We were at 99 and it was 5:00 and we would have settled for a dead Rock Dove (can you believe we hadn't seen a pigeon either living or dead the entire day?) at that point. Fortunately, as we were all giving up, someone spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk at the damned parking lot! Phew. Reputations were on the line!

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    1. Two years ago we needed one species to catch up to our rival team and we hadn't seen a single kestrel all day. Twelve of us were in a van scanning telephone wires for the last hour. I'm not even sure the driver was watching the road.

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  4. An impressive and observant tour! Generous birds to show you so many varieties of themselves in return for getting to see only 12 humans. What a fun post!

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    1. True, but we pretty much all look alike.

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  5. Congrats on a great day of birding. AND a hilarious post of same. If you had been counting in Texas, that would have been a piddling number, but for up there, it's AWESOME.

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    1. We do have a lot of habitats we can get to in a hurry, but yes, if you can count on seeing 35 warblers, you're ahead of the game. Here we have, like, one. And his name is Hank.

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  6. Ooh. And the emu they wouldn't let you count really counts for at least five because of its size. So more than 100.
    What a wonderful day. Thank you for taking us along.

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    1. I give the emu even more points that that, because of his vaunted ability to kick my ass if I don't.

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  7. If you like, I'll let you have my eight bee eaters (Merops ornatus)that were sitting on my tv antenna.

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    1. Uh huh. Frankly, I'd take about anything you care to dish out.

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  8. Gee, as a Orygun native, 4th gen, I rather look differently at birds.....Doves, Ducks, Geese, Grouse, Quail.......I think of butter, and garlic and the like. But, diversity is good, eh. And I don't long for the little squackers outside my window here in Montana this time of year.

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    1. Well, you can't go far wrong with butter and garlic. I had a pretty good quail once but the little topknot got stuck halfway down.

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    2. You forgot turkey....nom nom nom....

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  9. 98 is a good score. In my opinion, large emus and unsanitary pigeons count for two points each.

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  10. Cashews made it around four times? What a polite bunch you are! Warblers are just starting to show up along with bunches of sparrows, finches, grosbeaks, etc. I can see all the wonderful colors before all the leaves open up. Did I ever tell you I had a seedhawk (umbrella cockatoo) named Brewster? Must have had him for over twenty years.

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    1. No you did not. Excellent name for a bird.

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  11. Sounds like fun. Yesterday I was volunteering at the carousel we run, and we kept hearing a very loud warbling just outside the door. Soon we had six volunteers poking their noses into every tree and shrub in the patio garden trying to find the bird, which of course stopped warbling. Since I've never heard that particular song, I'm convinced it's a rare variety and would enhance my personal lifetime list.

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    1. It was probably somebody's cell phone.

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  12. Your photographs are divine. Last night I sat at my mom's kitchen and a magpie landed on the arch of her front gate. It (she) danced for us, looping into the air every few minutes only to come back down again. We suggested a number of reasons for this, tried to take pitiful photos with my camera phone, as the twilight landed on our shoulders and on the magpie. Conversations with mom hadn't always been easy, but that 30 minutes was nothing but peace. The power of a little bird. Love your stories/essays/humor, T

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    1. I meant I enjoyed your trip of spotting dozens (a hundred?) of birds, and it inspired / reminded me of this little bird watch.

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    2. I can watch birds for HOURS. Especially the ones right outside my window when I'm supposed to be writing.

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