The Birds

Lissa and I drove down to the Bosque del Apache today to see the birds.

Sandhill cranes

We saw, in no particular order, Sandhill cranes, a sparrow hawk (now apparently to more correctly be called the American kestrel), a golden eagle, a bunch of American coots, a Northern Pintail duck, a few red-tailed hawks, and more than a few snow geese.

And a great blue heron.

page from Peterson's Guide to Western Birds

That’s a page from our old family heirloom copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds.

We are by no means serious birders, but we always take our Peterson on trips, and when we see a bird we can identify, we jot a note in the margin. It has thus become a sort of narrowly defined family diary.

The oldest entry seems to be under the great blue heron: “11/86 – sat on tiny island in Colorado River all morning, picking at its feathers.” Lissa and I were camped on the Arizona side of the river down south, near the Mexican border. The “island,” as I remember it, was little more than a rock big enough to snag some driftwood. The heron just sat.

We’ve since seen the big herons in Wyoming, near Thayne; on the San Juan River downstream from Sand Island where they kept following our boat; at the Bosque del Apache with Lissa’s late sister Ginnie. That last is particularly precious now.

We have a couple of whooping crane listings (a handful used to winter in New Mexico with the sandhill crane flock), including the time my sister and I saw one in flight.

And then my favorite listing, under “mallard”: “Coyote kills a female mallard at Bosque del Apache 11-3-97 N, L, J and Uncle Bill.” The flock of ducks was at the edge of a field, and we watched as the coyote crept up on them. The ducks fluttered and moved away as the coyote moved toward them, uneasy. Finally the coyote bolted, the ducks took to the air in a flurry, and the coyote got the slowest one. Evolution in action.

We’ve got the new Sibley Guide to Birds now, which is a terrific book. We write in it now too. But we still tote along the Peterson’s, and we still scrawl in the margins.