Tuesday, January 03, 2006

In the land of storybooks

Today was a children’s book sort of day. Clear skies, sunshine, warm breezes, happy boys with bare feet -- Elizabeth Enright and Carol Ryrie Brink probably created some of their stories on days like this.

I had lunch outside, while my little brothers ran around in the greenbelt. After lunch, I joined them, stretching out on the trampoline with Les Miserables. Chickadees sang, and a bird I didn’t recognize.

I slipped off the trampoline and walked to a tree teeming with chickadees. Suddenly, I had an unexplainable urge to see them better. I’d watched them all summer long; they certainly weren’t a novelty. Perhaps that’s the thing about birding: The birds are never tiring, no matter how routine they are.

So I ran up the hill to the house to grab my binoculars. I watched the chickadees and then scanned the woods for the bird with the unfamiliar song. Soon I saw it: a Carolina Wren. I’d thought that his was one of the songs that I could identify confidently, but I suppose I have more variations to learn. Oh well.

Then I climbed into the tree fort with my book in one hand, my binoculars in the other, and my brothers close behind me. Life doesn’t get much better than that. The boys took turns looking through the binoculars and swinging off the fort, neighbors stopped by, and I read at leisure, the birds providing a pleasing soundtrack.

The perfect day to spend outside. I’m glad I’m still in college.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

... and spontaneity

On the way out to Spur, Bolt had been reminiscing about a hiking trip he had once taken to Guadalupe. We had no good reason to return home that day, so when we arrived in Abilene, we turned West instead of East.

We drove to the base of the Guadalupe Mountains just as the sun was rising. As we pulled into the campground, Bolt’s headlights shone on a pair of Canyon Towhees. Life birds before the sun had even fully risen! This was going to be a great day.

Bolt chose the nine-mile Bowl hike in hopes of finding Spotted Owls. The day never delivered any of the owls, but it did yield plenty of other birds.

As we climbed, we came to a stretch of the path filled with wrens. Cactus, Canyon, Bewick’s, and Rock Wrens all appeared. The Canyon Wren’s reddish body was my favorite, although I liked the others too.

Flocks of juncos were numerous. They were the same species, but they always looked different. I liked watching their tails spread out when they flew. A Ladder-backed Woodpecker clung to a branch, obligingly letting us look at it in detail.

The wind grew stronger as we neared the top, threatening to blow us off the path, and a lingering cough snatched at air that I would have preferred to designate toward climbing. Still, though, frequent stops for birds gave us plenty of legitimate resting time, and we peaked without too much difficulty.

Having summited, we began the circular hike through the forest. We watched a flock of tiny Bushtits, and Bolt found a Mountain Chickadee among them.

The birds disappeared then, and the wind swept through the forest, battering the trees and our hopes. Not for long, though. Soon we heard a bird, and we looked to see a nuthatch with a bright red breast hammering away at a tree. A few Mountain Chickadees provided better looks than the one we had seen previously, and we sat down to eat our lunch.

During lunch, we once again heard the familiar sound of chickadees, and we abandoned our crackers and peanut butter to pursue the birds. Nuthatches were among the chickadees, and Bolt identified them as Pygmys. Later on, we spotted Acorn Woodpeckers, which brought my acquaintances in the Picidae family up to seven.

A glance at a watch told us that we would need to hurry if we were to fully descend before darkness did, so we bid farewell to the Bowl and all of its birds and headed down the mountain.