The first bird I formally identified, as in “sat down with the book and then wrote down the result” was a great blue heron.
The entry in the old family Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, red ball point pen:
11/86 Sat on tiny island in Colorado River all morning, picking at its feathers
The book dates to the 1960s. Per the inscription in the front, it was a Christmas 1968 gift from my father to my mother. When Lissa and I were married it was passed down to us.
I cannot remember the November 1986 Colorado River blue heron campground with precision. It was on the Lower Colorado, the Blythe stretch I think (North of Blythe? South?) on the Arizona side, I think. There were a few tent spaces, but it was mostly RV’s. We were poor, and tent campers, and went often in the winter months from our home in South Pasadena to the deserts of the Lower Colorado.
When I was young and imagined being a writer (which is almost certainly what I was imagining on that trip in November of 1986 as I sat looking out at that river), I had a character in mind who lived in the desert – out near Joshua Tree, in a mobile home – and learned the names of birds. The naming of things has always seemed important to me:
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
The heron, if you believe in such things, has always been a spirit animal for me, following me on my travels. One swooped up into a cottonwood this morning as my friend Scot and I were riding our bikes up through the woods along the Rio Grande, kindly posing, that I might take their picture and remember their name.