Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Bunch Of Little Birdies

My girlfriends know I always volunteer to drive. I like to drive. I like the way my car feels with me inside. I fit in my car.

So I volunteer to drive me and three birders around Padre Island National Seashore to watch the birds. For four hours. We're part of a group of 13.

Before we go, George and Mary, the 70-somethings leading this group, deck us out in bird-watching gear: bright orange vests (so the birds see us coming?), walkie-talkies (in case someone gets lost, or is attacked?), binoculars (I know why we need these), bird lists and pens, all pulled from the trunk of their car.

I'm feeling like a bad fit here. The vest pulls around to my sides only, I can't work the walkie-talkie. And the bird list? Well, some of the names are familiar because I used to edit a bird column for my local newspaper. But the chit chat convinces me I'm with hard-core birders. They discuss the list with each other, point to names, share vignettes about the last time they saw this bird or that.

Clearly, I don't fit in. I'm glad I'm driving. 

So the little three-car caravan gets underway and minutes later, we land on the beach and spill out onto the sand, us in our orange vests, holding binoculars, lists, pens and walkie-talkies.

Yes, people stare.

"The birds down on the fence," Mary begins, "Are Forster's Tern. In winter plummage." 

Wow. They are beautiful birds, Bird's I'm familiar with. Last year, I took their picture (above) and I thought how unusual these little birds looked. So, wow. I know these birds.

"And the black-headed birds bunched up in the surf are laughing gulls." 

And they really laugh. HA! 

"What's the little round bird, up in the surf?" someone asks. (Ruddy Turnstone, Mary says.)

"And how about the other one, the one that keeps running away from the water?" (A Sanderling.)

And more questions, more pleas for identifications, lifestyles, habits. I take note of who's asking. He is. She is. And her. Why, I'm not so alone here. More than half of us don't know what we are doing, except we are having fun and learning a little about birds.

So I'm as good a fit with this group as I am in my car, which is where we return time and time again throughout the next four hours, driving from spot to spot, documenting sightings of 33 different kinds of birds. Asking questions. Laughing. Looking silly as we stand in the road (AHA! The orange vests!) peering all which ways through the binoculars for the bird (a hawk, falcon or harrier or something) that just flew away. And talking to each other on the walkie-talkies, helping each other locate the birds (at 4 o'clock, just below the log ... see the log? Well look to the left, then down.)

And, of course, making friends. And plans to do more of this stuff later, together. 

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