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.
A Love Affair With Birds : The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts by Sue Leaf, to be published by the University of Minnesota Press. The Hennepin County Library has five copies on order. Here is the summary of the book as offered by the library.
“Imagine a Minneapolis so small that, on calm days, the roar of St. Anthony Falls could be heard in town, a time when Passenger Pigeons roosted in neighborhood oak trees. Now picture a dapper professor conducting his ornithology class (the university's first) by streetcar to Lake Harriet for a morning of bird-watching.
“The students were mostly young women--in sunhats, sailor tops, and long skirts, with binoculars strung around their necks. The professor was Thomas Sadler Roberts (1858--1946), a doctor for three decades, a bird-lover virtually from birth, the father of Minnesota ornithology, and the man who, perhaps more than any other, promoted the study of the state's natural history.
“’A Love Affair with Birds’ is the first full biography of this key figure in Minnesota's past. Roberts came to Minnesota as a boy and began keeping detailed accounts of Minneapolis's birds. These journals, which became the basis for his landmark work” The Birds of Minnesota,” also inform this book, affording a view of the state's rich avian life in its early days -- and of a young man whose passion for birds and practice of medicine among Minneapolis's elite eventually dovetailed in his founding of the beloved Bell Museum of National History.
“Bird enthusiast, doctor, author, curator, educator, conservationist: every chapter in Roberts's life is also a chapter in the state's history, and in his story acclaimed author Sue Leaf -- an avid bird enthusiast and nature lover herself -- captures a true Minnesota character and his time."
We just finished watching the birding show broadcast on Channel 2 last Monday: “Birding: The Central Park Effect.” This is Saturday. We taped the original showing, but accidentally chose the Spanish-language channel, so had to find it and tape it one more time.
What I liked best were the comments of the woman who guides birders in the park. She finds a warbler with her binoculars, and as she tells her birding companions where the bird it and where it is going you can hear the intensity and urgency in her voice. She has the enthusiasm and expressive voice of a good sports announcer. What she sees is important and meaningful.
Later in the program she sits in her apartment with her book of lists, marking the bird species seen that day, reviewing entries from other days. She has 30 years worth of personal records, and would have more if her mother had not tossed her childhood notebooks. She talks of daily goals – the number of species seen – and weekly and monthly goals.
I’ve been there and done that. The challenge of seeing one more species today than I did yesterday always added interest and energy to my birding. My records date to the early 1960s. day-by-day accounts of species seen – where and when. The memories are written in those numbers.
I’ll be out Sunday morning with a grandson. Mid-July isn’t highlight time for birds, but there will be things to see. I haven’t hooked him yet on lists, but I’m working on it. Sightings become a collection as well as a challenge as well as pleasure of the moment.
There is a note of seriousness at the end of the show as various Central Park birders comment on the declining number of birds seen, decline evident in as small an area as a single city park. It’s the same here. I want my grandson to see everything possible now, while the species we have still exist.
Bird species don’t have to actually be extinct to be extinct on a personal basis. If you have to drive a day or two to look for a bird that is found only with extraordinary good fortune, for all intents and purposes that species is extinct for you.
Bird more now, and join the effort to save what we have.
On the drive to Lutsen last Friday evening we picked up fog at the Silver Cliff tunnels on Highway 61. It thinned the thickened along the shore, sometimes creating twilight, at other times opening a hole so the sun highlighted a spot of road ahead of us. We saw a handful of crows and one raven. At the cabin, no sounds – no bird calls, no wind, no slush of the lake swells against the rocks. Just before dark, when I went out to pee, one Red-eyed Vireo called lazily from behind us. Inside again, in front of the wide window facing the lake, three Herring Gulls came from the spruce trees at my left, wings starched in glide position, 15-degree angle of attack, three focal plane shutters crossing my window lens, gone when they found the shoreline fog. Next morning, the vireo again, and a distant raven. When we lived in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin several years ago ravens were my favorite birds. We didn’t see them often; they prefer privacy to an extreme, and I suppose we’ve taught them that lesson. We heard them daily, croaks and squawks from back in the woods or across the lake. We had a pair of resident human neighbors, and a dozen weekend families who shared the lake. We were half a mile off the township road that served us. Vehicles were of another world. Airplanes were rare. We had birdsong and the wind. It was lovely. I walked to the mailbox at driveway’s end each day, from late spring into summer counting on an Eastern Wood Pewee to sing me along. The raven and the pewee and the distinctive rap of courting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, rap starting fast, quickly slowing to an irregular beat that dribbled off to its end. People sometimes ask me if we miss the lake and the woods. Yes, the sounds of things mostly – the birds and the ice. The ice snapped and cracked as it formed or on cold cold nights when it pushed against itself. In the spring, when it went out, it hummed and sang like a musical saw. It was nice to be back in the woods for a few days, to hear the ravens again.
Below, a shy raven.
Ben Franklin wasn't happy when the Bald Eagle was chosen as our national bird. He had a low opinion of the species. I thought of Ben a few days ago. On a scouting trip, looking for Snowy Owls (what else?), I came upon a pair of eagles in a plowed field beside a road. They were waiting for traffic to clear before returning to the deer carcass in the ditch, flattened and coming apart. I stopped to watch them return to their lunch, pulling and tugging to rip pieces of meat from the roadkill. This is part of what Franklin wrote to a daughter about these birds: "For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly." Yes, it's dirty work, but you know what people say about that -- somebody etc. etc.
|Movies (2)||Weather (1)|
|Animals (2)||Photos (2)|
|Holiday shopping (2)||Bird biology (236)|
|Bird books (60)||Bird conservation (121)|
|Bird feeding (71)||Bird identification (130)|
|Bird interactions (45)||Bird migration (117)|
|Bird personalities (18)||Bird sightings (113)|
|Bird travels (92)||Birds in the backyard (89)|
|Minnesota birding sites (44)||Nesting (54)|
|Problem birds (2)||Photography (2)|
|Events (1)||Birding equipment (21)|