Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
My birding friend Tink will visit here in February, coming from Virginia to attend the Sax-Zim birding festival in Meadowlands. Before his arrival I had to ask him his real name.
I met Tink in Arizona in 2006. We and our wives were visiting the Nature Conservancy Reserve in Ramsey Canyon. It’s a primo birding spot in the Huachuca mountains in southeastern Arizona. You can see 10 or 12 hummingbird species here on one good August day.
Tink and I have kept up a steady email correspondence for seven years. His visit here is (was) highly anticipated. I felt, in that case, I should know his name.
Tink, as you’ve guessed, is a nickname. When we met he told me his real name, but he didn’t use it in other than official ways, so I didn’t use it, so I forgot it.
There is nothing uncommon about that, for me anyway. I remember birders I meet by the stories I attach to them, the birds we shared, the places we visited in common, the oddities and adventures.
Also in Ramsey Canyon that day was John What’s-his-name, the garrulous one-eyed dynamite salesman from Texas. (I never asked about the eye, preferring to speculate.) John’s story finds him 70 miles outside of Nome, Alaska, searching with friends for the Bristle-thighed (true) Curlew.
Successful in his effort, John decided to walk back to the group’s van. In unvaried and confusing terrain, he confidently hiked the wrong direction, toward the Arctic Ocean.
He was found as a distant silhouette against the ever-bright Nome summer sky, minutes from being subject of a 911 alert. He insisted ever after that he knew exactly where he was.
There’s the house painter from Toronto, who dropped brush and bucket whenever he had airfare, flying to wherever the birding action was. (He had a bird itch in need of frequent scratching, and an understanding wife.) I last saw him on a foggy dock on the California coast.
Friends and I were waiting pre-dawn for departure on a pelagic trip.
We were dressed like Minnesotans, stuffed into all the clothes we had; sea fog has a wind-chill factor. The painter came strolling down the dock in a tank top, shorts, and flip flops.
He was one bird away from reaching 600 on his life list, a very big deal. He had a momentous trip in front of him. He also had no binoculars, dropping his during an enroute stop in Arizona, breaking a lens.
He asked if we had a pair he could borrow. I don’t remember his name or how the trip went, but I can hear those flip flops coming through the fog.
Tink and I became friends when we discovered in Arizona that his birding ID books were weak on hummingbirds. One of ours was better.
“Here, ”I said, “use this one. Send it back when you get home.”
Ever since we’ve traded reports of birding adventures, his chase of a life list of 500 North American species, my list of species photographed.
There are others, good stories all. Birding for me is about the story.
Tink’s Minnesota story will end happily. He will see new birds and push ever closer to 500. Then, he will begin the chase to 600. You can reach 700 North American species with effort. I have friends whose lists are in the 800s. They are subjects of really good stories.
Tink’s name, by the way, is Carleton.
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