Ides of March and Down by the River
14 March 2007
Before the sunrise, the alarm sounds in the darkened cave of a motel. Whooping Cranes are soon to head north, maybe even some of those I feasted on yesterday. The tall white birds made for a good wakening vision as I hastily feel my way to the bathroom. I briefly wonder why, in movies, waking people never beat a path to empty the night’s collection held by a swollen bladder. It is ok to show people barfing, having their brains spatter on a nearby wall, showering, especially in slasher films, and wallow in pretend or not so pretend sex, but never ever reveal having a good bladder evacuation. Yes, those thoughts and more ricochet, or is it, rattle around, in my waking brain. Reality won over my wayward head, and I begin packing the usual food, peanut butter being the main course of course, for a long day at sea. This time, I board the boat named Scat Cat, a brand name of some fast boats, but the boat under me is similar to the one on the crane cruise yesterday. Always a little apprehensive about water since I fully realize my adaptations evolved me and other humans to mostly terrestrial activities, I brace myself against any fear by taking a definite notice on the location of the life preservers.
The cruise is a fishing jaunt, about an eight-hour trip replete with mostly males ready to cast their luck with long poles supplied by the boat‘s crew. After sailing at what seemed to be well over 10 knots, the Cat Scat suddenly comes to a stop about 50 miles from Port Aransas. Until then, except for an occasional bounce, the watery road into the Gulf of Mexico felt flat. The abrupt halt quickly put things in perspective as the boat begins to pitch and yaw. Just as quickly, my inner ear malfunctions. The medicinal patch behind my ear does not work as well as the tablets I usually use. I promise myself I will question my doctor’s wisdom someday as I check the wind and heave breakfast overboard. Then, I heave overboard, and, for good measure, heave again. No one seems to notice.
After accidentally chumming the water, the excited fishing folks begin throwing out baited hooks dangling from the boat‘s many long fishing poles. Perhaps my not so pale chartreuse breakfast will attract a big sailfish. Maybe someone would be luckier than I felt. The remainder of the day does not bring an Audubon’s Shearwater or a hoped for booby or tropicbird. During the remaining hours, I fight sleep, probably brought on by the patch and general malaise from the maritime meany that made me look green and feel weak. Over my seasickness, or at least the barfing part, I concentrate on birds between the times when my eyelids succumb to gravity. Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns so far out from land are, to me, surprising. Eventually the sleepiness abates, and one Pomarine Jeager, and one each of Greater and Cory’s Shearwater put in a brief showing. In another month, some Texans told me, more birds might be possible.
Before turning north, white caps begin dotting the dark blue green Gulf of Mexico. The edge of the continental shelf is a long way from shore, much further than it is off the Oregon coast. It is a long way to fight drowsiness and miss a potential life bird. The cruise, despite getting sick, is worth the effort though, seeing two shearwaters I have not seen since decades past. In the end though, I am happier to be back on dry ground. I walk around the parking lot, getting my land legs and making sure that I am safe to drive the few blocks from the wharf. It is nice to return home, even if it is a motel room in Port Aransas.
15 March 2007
One of the first thoughts meandering around the cobwebs of my morning brain is at least solid ground will be under my feet and that it is the Ides of March. However, that I should beware of the Ides of March scarcely crosses my mind. For me, the Ides of March is not a day to fear, but a good name for a day that marks spring. Perhaps it is a time to beware of poison oak beginning to bare leaves or maybe to beware of bears, cougars or unfrozen quicksand. It had been years since I first came upon the fateful warning to Julius Caesar in Bill Shakespeare’s wonderful play. Actually, my initial exposure to the unheeded soothsayer’s dire words of caution was a Classic comic, with pictures of all the people in the Senate knifing poor JC to death. I later read the real thing. Ever since, I have been beguiled by most things Roman, including watching the HBO series “Rome” and, of course, saw movies such as “The Gladiator” and “Cleopatra.” One day at the museum, Cleopatra and I shared the same elevator. Having just left the Division of Birds on what now is a forgotten errand; I was surprised when, probably at the fourth floor, the door slide open and in walked Elizabeth Taylor. I was too shy to speak and she, looking a little distraught, perhaps because of my then long hair and beard, remained silent. Maybe she was thinking of the jewels she had lent to the museum. After all, pearls discovered in the 1500’s, or were they diamonds, were not a matter to be taken lightly. However, I did, consider the matter lightly. Virginia Wolf, Cleopatra, or whoever, was no comparison or more famous, in my estimation, than Alexander Wetmore who always had a smile and a good story to tell. He would be in the Division of Birds, working on the birds of Panama. There was far more to learn from him than anyone in that elevator.
As the journey on the Smithsonian elevator hurried through my mind, I now navigate the darkened Corpus Christi motel room gathering binocs, a rain coat hopefully not needed, pack a lunch and snacks for a day of birding, kiss Linda and drive south. The plan is to look for Groove-billed Anis in the Corpus Christi region.
Two days after the crane cruise, I had time to check some of the birding spots around Port Aransas. One such site was the city’s water treatment area that is a great habitat for herons, spoonbills and ducks. Once, a female Ruddy Duck pops up a few feet off the boardwalk, reminding me of another one of my target species, the ever popular but elusive Masked Duck. Enough time allows a quick drive to the northern end of Padre Island, where, two years ago, I had searched for a reported Masked Duck. Again, as in 2005, I arrive at the visitor’s center after it had closed for the day. With no local information, checking for the prize would definitely involve plenty of luck. Not more than 100 yards from the driveway of the visitor center is a shallow pond and something swimming in it, something that looks like a small duck. By now, the sun and pool are beginning to line up like certain planets for a good astrology reading. Looking westward toward the big solar light is a strain. I stare carefully through my hand held scope. The greater the magnification, the more I seem to shake and the brighter the sun‘s rays that bounce off the water into my eyes like a well-choreographed pool shot. A stiff breeze does not help as it bends the emergent grass near the stiff-tailed duck. I am approaching the 90% mark of being sure it is a Masked Duck when the bird disappears into the vegetation that is becoming more and more back lit. I need that 10% to be sure in order to count a Masked Duck. It could be a Ruddy.
Meandering roads through mainland Flour Bluff, just across Laguna Madre and Padre Island, traverse residential dwellings with occasional roadside mudflats and open water. A nice cross-section of birds jumps into my notes, but no Masked Ducks and no anis. The ides of March, nearly spent, have brought neither bad luck nor good luck. No major bug bits or sinking into quicksand and no target birds are the menu of the day. One more stop on my itinerary is possible and anis, if they are in town, might be my next life bird.
The sun is casting ever-long shadows. Rushing down a trail from the parking lot in the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens might get me into ani habitat before the lights go out. So far, my Ides of March sleuthing is not up to the par of another character known by a number. This is the year of 007, or, to non-Fleming fans, simply 2007. Maybe if I had special binoculars, I could see around corners and through thickets. I could be James Bond, the birder. James Bond, the real one, the ornithologist, with his field guide to birds of the West Indies already taught me some sleuthing powers and helped me identify a few Caribbean birds. Among them were a couple of ABA species that I have yet to see in ABA country. Not among the observed Bond birds, of course, was a Groove-billed Ani. The Botanical Garden is practically deserted. Double 0 seven would be on the alert, ready for anything, perhaps especially since it is the Ides of March. Southerly wind rattles the mesquite and other bushes and hardly a bird is possible to hear. Shortly, I approach a cactus garden, with most of the species bearing labels attesting a more southern origin. Many are in bloom. No anis is here to bond with. No gold finger is pointing to the target bird. Is the Ides of March giving me The Finger?
Hurrying around the back of a spiny grouping of assorted cacti took me near a cluster of relatively tall bushes and a tree or two. I stop, spish and listen. On the heels of the last spish, I hear the unmistakable sound of a hummingbird, but what species. As with many hummingbird encounters, it seems it is another that got away. “Did you see that hummingbird?” As luck would have it, the sound keeps coming from the same area of thick branches. The bird then darts into sight, just long enough for me to see a mostly dark hummingbird. Frozen in my tracks and reluctant to breath, I wait and wait, but nothing happens. The bird disappears. Did the fickle finger of the Ides of March win again?
Circling around to the other side of the dense vegetation put me back on the trail passing the cactus garden. Surely some of the blooms are attracting the mystery hummer. If a hummingbird is there, it will be difficult to spot. The day has evolved from mostly cloudy with slivers of sun poking through just a few minutes earlier into one of those days with a sky completely covered by clouds. The clouds are smooth, providing an opaque barrier between the hummingbird and the westward sun. According to the general instructions, the little paper that came tucked in the box of film, the F-stop setting on my long retired 35mm camera would be in the lighting zone called “cloudy bright (no shadow).” This is ok light for observing anis, but not particularly helpful for identifying hummingbirds. Of course, the old 35mm was back home somewhere among the junk I should have thrown away long ago. Today, I do not have a camera of any kind and if I did, the horrible light would likely make an identifiable frame a dream. If I can find the hummer again, I will have to recall it from a photographic memory with enough details to identify this mystery bird.
While worrying about whether the hummingbird will reappear, I also ponder about the perceived unaccommodating light. Even if it reappears, will it be a measly silhouette? Will it be an observation on accord to the duck back on Padre Island? There are some potentially ani habitat still to search, and maybe the hummingbird is a Buff-bellied, not a ho-hum hummer for someone spending most of their birding time in Oregon, but not a lifer. Weighing in whether to wait or go, a watered down version of fight or flight, I nearly throw in the hummer towel, but suddenly the mystery bird shoots up out of the tangle of limbs and up into the air. It then quickly descends into the obscuring vegetation before darting up once again. Training my binocs on the sight, I soon have the bird in in both barrels, follow it until it is out of sight, and then pick it out of the air again. If it was displaying to another hummingbird, the other bird is no where to be seen. I am facing eastward and the gruesome, “cloudy bright, no shadows” sky reluctantly reveals the bluish under tail and greenish back, throat and belly. Focusing on the head, I try in vain to discern the shape of the bill. What I see, on most but not each upward flight is a bluish area on the side of head just below where the eye should be. The rapid motion of the hummingbird, the 100-foot distance between it and me and the imperfect light during a period of around 90 seconds really are not conducive to see tiny hummingbird eyes.
It all happens so fast, but before the bird disappears, the realization of it being a Green Violet-ear is indisputable, at least as far as I am concerned. What else can it be? The bluish under tail should eliminate most North American hummingbirds. Lack of any white in the tail rules out Broad-bills and slightly large Blue-throated Hummingbirds, and lack of white behind the eye eliminates the even larger Magnificent, which has a purplish crown. The bluish area on the side of the head is the clincher. I have my first Green Violet-ear, new ABA life species 619.
A quick search of the area for another birder who might corroborate my sighting results in only a couple of nonbirders there for the flowers, a sky darkening from thickening clouds and lowering sun, and the steady wind rattling the low trees and bending grassy stems toward the ground. This is double trouble, the failing light and brewing wind. With no more hummingbirds in sight, I head down a trail toward some likely ani habitat. There is nothing to hear but the southerly bluster and nothing to see that has feathers. Returning to the Green Violet-ear site, I wait and wait, expecting a repeat of my new species displaying or at least watch it foraging. Scanning each and every blooming cactus and visible tree and bush limb until my wind dry eyes begin to burn, I finally head for the visitor center on the chance of finding someone to recheck the site. The office is closed. An employee hurries past me, asking if the car in the lot is mine. I admit the rental is mine. He said that the grounds closed 30 minutes ago and that he will let me through the now locked gate. Not marooned in the botanical gardens and finding a rare and new species is a good Ides of March.
16-19 March 2007
The drive from Gulf Coast to Austin is uneventful. In Austin, we enjoy slightly cooler weather although the southerly winds keep blowing night and day. I send an email to Mark Lockwood, coordinator for reports of rare birds in Texas. He replies that the Texas Bird Record Committee will review my hummingbird sighting. Owing to the fact that Green Violet-ears in Texas are known to appear only rarely in April, not March, makes me doubt acceptance of my sighting. With the early date, no photograph, no corroborating birders, I probably would not accept my observation either. A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks calls from the low oak woods north of Jennifer’s house while I check her computer. No one has reported a Violet-ear. A Black and White Warbler adds to the usual back yard birds. On the 19th, we pack for a trip to the southern part of the state, or as they say, South Texas.
20 March 2007
The goal of the last part of this spring in Texas is to try for the Mangrove group of Yellow Warblers near the town of South Padre Island, and try for some of the species missed in 2005. The warbler, although presently a subspecies, may someday be promoted to a full species. Having already seen the Yellow Warbler that breeds in most of North America and the Golden Warbler in Florida, the one breeding on many of the Caribbean islands, I thought I would give the mangrove birds a try. After that, we will spin through Sabal for the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and up the Rio Grande for specialties ranging from Hook-billed Kites to White-collared seedeater and perhaps a Muscovy Duck. However, it is a long way to those areas from Austin. A motel in Kingsville puts us into what, birdwise, seems to be South Texas. The windy cemetery in Kingsville, familiar from two years ago, does not fail to provide Great Kiskadees, Couch’s Kingbirds and Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.
On 21 March, Linda’s reaction to the throbbing March winds is not good. She feels more fatigued than I did on the Cat Scat two days earlier. Instead of heading for the warblers, we change our route and drove to Weslaco, a central location to the Rio Grande. I cannot help thinking of some of the meanings of being down by the river. First, of course, are the birds. Second, in my stream of consciousness is Matt Foley. Saturday Night Live comedian Chris Farley, who died in 1997, created Matt Foley, a down-on-his-luck character who lived in a van on a steady diet of government cheese down by the river. Chris would grab the waist of his large pants, turn them on his rotund belly and deliver the phrase “down by the river” with such force that a coronary seemed inevitable. “Down by the river,” was screamed out in a conglomerate of the character’s emotions ranging from anger and despair to proud hopelessness. It was funny and sad. Down by the river was poignant. Birders and nonbirders probably have not escaped notice of the unfortunate homeless who subsist somewhere down by the river.
Being down by the river, the wonderful Rio Grande did mean the prospect of some fantastic birding, and it brought back memories. Although as a child, I may have seen the Rio Grande during a distant recollection in El Paso, the first opportunity to see it as a birding Mecca was not until In 2005. As a child, when northerners actually called it the Rio Grande River, I could not have appreciated its importance as a haven for so many species unique to the United States and that today remain unique to my life list. Where is a seedeater when you need one? Now aware that most of the natural habitat along lower Rio Grande is a victim of agriculture, urbanization, and general misuse, like any birder and conservationist, I have great hope for saving what is left from the heavy hand of human kind. Only a tiny percent of natural habitat remains. Fortunately, since 1979, there has been an ongoing plan to purchase land along the Rio Grande in order to provide a continuous corridor of natural habitat. The area would be administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Of course, the plan also depends on other factors. An obvious one is will the Rio Grande become extinct. In 2001, the Rio Grande failed to empty into the Gulf of Mexico! Sand bars that form at the mouth of the river usually are flushed away by spring rains, but these rains have not been forthcoming lately. Although originating in the cool mountains of Colorado, the Rio Grande is a trickle compared to many rivers its 1,800-mile length. It is not navigable except by very small boats. What water the river has is dammed and siphoned off for thirsty agriculture.
The sand bars that are becoming usable land bridges harkens to another factor affecting birding, accessibility to the river and its habitats and the plan to create a corridor of natural habitat. Whether or not a usable land bridge exists near the mouth of the river or not, the Rio Grande is a major and relatively easy place to cross the border from Mexico into Texas. Most birders have witnessed small rowboats and motorized skiffs ferrying people across the Rio. This has been going on for decades, but the Department of Homeland Security wants to build a barrier that, according to their plan, will block illegal immigration across the river. It would also limit access to the river by law-abiding people, including birders and would damage much of the remaining natural habitat. An article from the Houston Chronicle in May 2007 outlined the proposal to build a fence and reported how it would threaten wildlife. The fence would disrupt years of work restoring habitat, and as one person equated the fence would create a “walled-in zoo. The article stated, “The fence is a key component of the Secure Border Initiative, a $7.6 billion array of 700 miles of fencing, vehicle barriers, radar installations, lighting, video surveillance and thousands of additional Border Patrol agents aimed at stopping illegal immigration by 2011.” The odds for me to see a Muscovy Duck in ABA land seem to be approaching slim to none.
21 March continued
Leaving Linda to rest at the Weslaco motel, I head south to be “down by the river.” Once near the south end side of town, on Texas Boulevard, I enter familiar territory. Anxious to get to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, I drive passed Chapman Woods of the Weslaco Audubon Society. A quarter of a mile further down the road, something tugs at me to turn around and hurry into the Chapman Woods parking lot. Jumping out, I am immediately asked what birds I had seen. Usually not so antisocial, I said I had not seen anything, having only just arrived in the valley. I rush to the office to pay my fee, still $3.00, and ask about rarities. There is nothing but the usual suspects, the usual chachalacas, Long-billed Thrashers and various doves. Somebody mentions parrots, and I take notes on locations. Maybe I could try after the jaunt to Santa Ana, but I cannot resist a run through the woods. The trails take me up close and personal to the usual suspects, all of which are terrific to see again. Just like two years ago when first laying eyes on some of the species, it is steamy and full of buzzing mosquitoes out for blood. This is the first time I needed my little bottle of DEET tucked in a pocket of my birding vest. Surprised chachalacas scurry from my hasty gait. I manage to see everything on the day’s roster except for the Neotropical migrants. Back at the car, I realize from the license plate, that two of the people that first asked what bird I have been seeing are from Oregon. Ordinarily I would have at least exchanged niceties about living in Oregon, but today, time is more than money, time is a new bird.
The target bird, the reason to go to Santa Ana is to see the reported Rufous-backed Robin. Unfortunately, the last sighting, according to me monitoring it via my Austin host’s computer, was a report of two birds on 17 March. The volunteer at the visitor center is not optimistic about me finding the robin but, it might be said, I came all the way from Oregon to see it. Maybe I will be lucky.
Out the door, with instructions and a map, I head toward the robin site. While talking to the volunteer, I had asked about Hook-billed Kites and was told that they were “far and few between this year since the snail crop at Santa Ana had not been good.” On the crossing of the dike, only a few yards from the visitor center, something down the dike causes me to stop. Over the dike and nearly at the distant tree line is a soaring bird, wheeling up and down in the steady wind. It is not a buteo or anything that I have ever seen. Before it disappears, I have about 15 seconds to see a bird with dark above and below plumage, a single band on its tail and strange paddle-like wings. It is, without a doubt, a Hook-billed Kite. [Bill Clark and friend saw one in the refuge a week later.] Much to my delight and satisfaction of seeing ABA life bird 616, I push forward as fast as my legs will carry me. Again, the air is steamy and filled with hungry mosquitoes. Ever mindful that I should be in healthier shape, I inhale deeply to help my racing heart do its job. Compared to a treadmill test, this is a piece of cake, except my clinic lacked the bugs. Re-dosing with mosquito-be-gone and not losing stride, the hunt, the thought of the Rufous-backed Robin is my momentum. Even so, open areas along the trail allow the steady southerly wind, once annoying by its persistence, to bring a cooling respite to a stressing hypothalamus. I am getting too hot. Even though Linda was not with me, I could hear her say “hydrate, drink some water.” I did, but without stopping.
The site where the Rufous-backed Robin was said is a 20-minute walk. Along the way I meet five people, some solo, others traveling together. All of them have sullen expressions. Quick exchanges reveal they all failed to see the Rufous-backed Robin. At a junction on the route to the prize stood a sign pointing toward THE spot and wishing the wishful the best of luck. The persistent mosquitoes buzzing me ears whip me into a faster stride. I slow rounding a bend in the trail where a youngish guy is sitting. Also around the very same bend is the spot of shoreline of a small parcel of water where the Rufous-backed Robin had been earlier observed. Nick Van Lanen, from Wisconsin and on his way to help in bird research in California, had been waiting in vain for 20 minutes. Together, we waited another 15 minutes. I take a picture of the spot where so many lucky birders chanced to spy the rare Rufous-backed Robin. A soft background noise of the perpetual wind, slightly subdued by the surrounding vegetation, creates the only sound at the former haunt of the rare robin. The area is disappointingly birdless. Deciding to bird up the trail, we continue up Terrace Trail to the service road, then to the junction of Highland Trail and circle around a section of Cattail Lake. There are Least Grebe, Sora, Harris’s Hawk and Nick spots a Clay-colored. I barely glimpse the Clay-color. Had I not seen Clay-colored Robin during 2005 in Texas and Panama, I would not have counted today’s bird. Of course, the two populations of Clay-colored Robin look quite different, with the subspecies in Panama being much duller than northern subspecies. Once you have seen a species, soaked in its field marks, its essence, counting glimpsed species seems easier. We rush on, arriving once again at the site once occupied by the Rufous-backed Robin. We wait a few minutes. Once more, only the lulling wind brought life to the otherwise terrible quiet. The Rufous-back is probably long gone.
There were fewer cars in the parking lot at Santa Ana. The day is ending. The short drive back to Weslaco includes snacking and drinking water, wishing I had been at Santa Ana a week ago, and high hopes of a parrot or two. Cruising up and down the Weslaco streets around the intersection of Border and Fifth Streets brought me to a church parking lot and a couple parked in a pickup truck. They also were looking for parrots. I wait 15 minutes as the sun begins to meet the horizon. It is getting late. On a growing desperate hunch, I turn onto a street one block from Border. The quietness of the residential neighborhood squawks to attention. Following the sound, over the roof of a nearby house, I see three pointed tailed Green Parakeets flying in the direction of the church parking lot. Number 617!
Back at the motel, it is clear that Linda needs to be home. We begin working on changing our reservations to return to Oregon as early as possible.
22-25 March 2007
A day of phoning and the help of our trusty travel agent is the price to rebook our flight out of Austin. The earliest departure, the 25th is only three days earlier than originally planned. Linda feels awful. I feel awful for her, but she does not need any help feeling worse. On the 23rd, we pack for a day’s drive back to the capitol. That evening, getting lost while driving to a Weslaco store somewhere near Border Avenue, is an auspicious event when a Red-fronted Parrot appears. The bird has a nice square tail and, as advertised, red front. Seen because of an errand, this remarkable bird makes the ABA list 618 and counting. It seems almost shocking that, in such a short time, Green Parakeet and Red-fronted Parrot make their début to my list.
We limp back to Austin the next day. Linda sleeps most of the way while I drive. Trying to think positively, I review the successes in Texas by adding three members of the parrot family, with two parakeets and one parrot. Mindful of the wildflowers south of Kingsville and the increasing traffic approaching San Antonio, I ponder what makes a bird a parakeet and not a parrot. Someday, when I have time, I will research the question. It is probably something similar to what makes a mouse a rat or a dove a pigeon. If I do have time to ferret out such problems that plague humankind, it will be when I have more time than now. Maybe after I grab the brass ring.
On the 25th, we endure the security check at the airport, which is more difficult when you don’t feel well. I keep any criticism of the security staff to myself except when, at the beginning of the line, a staff tells us to put our ID’s away, but later on down the gangplank, we are ordered to show our ID’s. I said the security people at the beginning told us one thing and now we are being told something opposite. Maybe my remark would help the security people appear more professional, but what I said fell on deaf ears and a mean glare. By then we are in the process of a strip search of our feet. It’s difficult taking foot ware on and off without a chair, especially when you are ill. Grateful for relatively good balance for a 60 something guy, I wonder if I can do the shoe dance in 20 more years. Will airport security be run by professionals or will it be worse than now?
The actual flight back to Oregon is uneventful. Spring is just beginning to arrive as we pass over snow-capped mountains and coniferous forests of northern California and southern Oregon. Ignoring the plethora of greed in the form of forest clear cuts, we agreed it is good to be home.
The first days home from Texas were quiescent times in cool darkened rooms, returning only the most urgent phone calls, watching some inane television and making sure we didn‘t miss our sensible favorites, “24“ and “Lost,“ and sorting the bills from the junk mail. Linda began recovering from whatever zapped her in Texas. With some rest, I wondered when good fortune might allow a revisit the lower Rio Grande Valley. Four or five of the more or less regular species remain missing from my sluggishly growing list. Next time, the missing species and perhaps more will be waiting. Hope springs eternal, assuming of course, the Rio Grande won‘t be hidden by a security fence or wall, something Home Land Security was posturing to throw up.
A few days later, my lower back let me know who was boss. It was a triumphant coupe de d’état, with a sweeping surge that overpowered the lowly toe muscles, the meager hamstrings and puny biceps. The focus of the battle was the lumbar region, which was nearly helpless. The army of pain rippled into my otherwise comfortable gluteus maximus and cascaded up my neck. It hurt like hell, but I kept my wincing to low decibels and four letter words to a minimum. A psychological element added to the hurt. An Emperor Goose and a probable Whooper Swan were found in the Klamath Basin while we were in Texas. Those species, not yet checked on the list were only a couple of hours from home. Was it the ugly head of the Ides of March?
Why should I complain? Birding down by THE River had added to my life list. Still, even though the aching back said no, the mind said let’s go birding. Spring was just arriving in Oregon. Chances for a winter rarity were virtually gone. Moreover, of course, it would be unlikely to find a new life bird locally, but I might break the 200 mark on my county list.
However, nonbirding life was looming. Linda and I had been discussing for quite some time, a change in residence. It seemed to make great since. About five years ago, we sold our country home, which was down by a river, where towhees (three species in the spring and fall), Western Tanager and Osprey and more also made home. We leased a downtown townhouse in historic Jacksonville in order to live closer to our ailing parents. That’s what caregivers do, sometimes. Our town digs, with fewer birds, was quiet, the muffled street sounds broken by occasional goldfinches and scrub jays, and a territorial Song Sparrow performing on the tiny intermittent creek in back. It was better than our apartment in Arlington, Virginia, before retiring. There, our only bird was a Northern Mockingbird that ate the raisins we placed on the window ledge. What birds would frequent our new home?
Now, our parents gone, Linda and I are 60-something orphans. Now, the time to find a more permanent home meant sacrificing some birding time for a while. Patience ruled the time during the lengthy stretch of searching for a new place, packing and happily moving to a small abode set on a hillside with a view. Beyond the valley, ridge after ridge of the Cascades, including views of 9,495-foot Mt. McLoughlin and a few peaks inside Crater Lake National Park creates a rugged horizon. Behind us, the foothills rise slowly into the Siskiyou Mountains. Compared to the townhouse avifauna, the new place has potential.
With repairs and remodeling ahead, chances for enjoying other than our new home birds is not good. Pacific Northwest spring and early summer is history. There would be no time to chase rarities. There would be no time for a new life bird unless it landed on my shoulder. No birding for a while seemed as if the Ides of March was not yet over.