Birding is so enjoyable. Almost anyone can do it. If your eyes are a little weak you can even bird by sound. As we approach a tiny pool of water on our walk I hear a bird. It’s a Spotted Sandpiper letting us know he is there. Click on the link and you can hear the bird’s distinct peeping. Here in Baja, almost any small pool of water may hold these guys. Their GISS (general impression, size and shape) will give them away even at a distance. They are sometimes called teeter-tails because of their constant tail bobbing. Sandpipers probably do this to help scare up insects to feed on around the edge of the water.
As we approach the little stand of water, the Sandpiper freezes. This bird is completely still so I’m sure there must be a predator nearby. Sure enough, a Peregrine Falcon buzzes off overhead. Caught a quick photo, sometimes that’s all we can get.
Also took a distant picture of a Lazuli Bunting. They seem to be abundant this year, such a beautiful creature.
For the first time this year I hear an old friend, a Canyon Wren. Pretty hard to ever get them out in the open, much less in the sunlight but this guy was busy impressing a lady. Canyon Wrens have a pretty, descending call with a buzz at the end. It’s worth listening to, just click the link.
We also saw a Brewer’s Sparrow. Debbie and I are really enjoying the great numbers of birds this year, a big difference from the last two. If you can identify a Brewer’s Sparrow you must know your birds. The long-forked tail helps give them away to me.
There also seems to be good numbers of Black-headed Grosbeaks around this season. Again, their song is well worth listening to.
I’m going to leave you today with a little story I wrote. It was posted on some forums I belong to and have had good responses. Try to read it slowly with a north-west accent.
The match before owls.
I was dripping sweat from everywhere I could. We had our hands and wrists clenched together, there is no givin’ in. My opponent, one that has a presence that sends NFL players running to mama for comfort, is using a new strategy and I need to stay focused. All I can see is blood-shot eyes staring at me like steel bearings through a cloud of cigar smoke. Everyone knows, I can’t take the smoke.
My name is Oly, yeah Big Oly and this is the last annual arm-wrestling contest between two opponents that goes back to somewhere in the 1970s. Me, well, Big Oly is a nick-name that comes from my loggin’ days in Blue River, Oregon. I had this big red beard, greasy long hair, worked hard and wasn’t especially smart. Most days, I rode my Harley Davidson ’51 Pan Head motorcycle to the junction by four A.M. to join the crummy (kind of a pick-up truck taxi) filled with mostly no-good log buckers and choker setters bruised and hungover from the night before. We worked mostly for jippo logging outfits (under the table) and the boss didn’t care what you looked like as long as you had caulked boots. Had to keep your jeans tore off just barely below the boot tops so as not to trip and to help keep the friggin’ ants out of your socks. Suspenders to hold you pants up. Loggers say no to crack, (plumbers crack).
I had a reputation. I had been the town arm-wrestling champ in my weight division for two years. I felt like a hero when I rode into the parking lot at Save-a-Way. Then along comes someone called Nasty. A card dealer from Myrtle Point some said would cause my downfall. Myrtle Point is a small town up the other end of the valley where most everyone is related. In Myrtle Point, a man is a good catch if he has most of his teeth, few did. Anyway, during our first match, a non-official contest one day after work, got my arm busted. I honored the wippin’, declared in public at the BRT (Blue River Tavern) that I had met my match, hung my head and left for good, mostly.
Ahhh the BRT… Our home away from home where, after work during the week and after dinner on Friday and Saturday nights the loggers and the hoedads would drink beer and taunt each other into little steam-letting brawls. We loggers knew we were tough and thought Hoedads were girly hippies. Hoedads thought we were stupid red-necks. Both lines of work were more than just a job. You had the weather. Rain, snow, hot or cold. You had the black flies and hornets. Just imagine loggers and logging, sometimes even setting chokers to have logs carried away by helicopter . Hoedads planted trees. In their defense I’ll say they were strong people. I’ve watched them work on a quarter-section we had logged off. Carrying a hundred little Douglas Firs seedlings, stuffed in cigar like tubes in a sling on their side, they’ed walk. Walk quickly straight up and down the mountain section, swinging a hoedad (a kind of heavy hoe) to plant a tree with each stroke, spaced something like nine feet apart. One big swing of the hoedad, pull it back when it sinks into the ground and stick the baby tree in the hole and stamp it in all in one motion. Doing this all day long or until the air got too dry for the fragile baby trees to make it. Both jobs become an extreme lifestyle.
Nothing was the same in my life after losing my title. My arm was so badly broken I gave up logging, disgraced, sold my bike and got a job at a golf course called Tokatee. I even gave up shooting Ring-necked Pheasants with my bow and began my walk up the road to photographing wildlife, especially birds.
I kept my distance from Nasty. Drank at a cocktail bar named the Cougar Room instead of the tavern where loggers came after work. Wore clean clothes and kept my hair shampooed. It had probably been five years but one day, I guess for memories sake, I went back to the BRT. The beer tasted good and I was feeling my oats, bragging to whoever would listen about the old arm-wrestlin’ days when, you guessed it, in walks ole Nasty. I was told a while back that Nasty had retired from the game. We eyed each other and before you know, our wrists are locked. Bartender hollers “take it outside”. New owners, new rules and out we go. Face to face, on the hood of a car, we lock wrists. We were both a little softer than we had been. After a minute or so we made excuses to call the match a tie. Being a little sauced, we made a promise to meet again in a year and settle the matter. It’s been like that for over 30 years now. We still meet, still drink too many beers on the day of the match, declare a draw for some unsupportable reason.
This year things are different. No excuses accepted. A match to the end. Like I was saying, Nasty lit a cigar when the match started. We were struggling fair and square until Nasty started chewing and swallowing the dog goned cigar! Blowing that gawd-awful smoke in my face! There was not that much left of the stogy but it was going down. If I laugh I’ll lose focus and likely the match. With the amber getting too close to her lips I have to give. My wife, Nasty, had finally won! “All right, all right! I’m beat. I give. Anyway honey, Walter has some owls he’s just achin’ to show us. Let’s go birding”.
Debbie, is fine looking woman. Beauty and integrity no one can compare. Of course she didn’t break my arm in that first contest. During a match break, I tripped on the way to the head and broke my wrist, bad enough. Plenty embarrassing! We got hitched back in ’95. Black Jack dealing Nasty lost that nick-name a long time ago. Except for some old friends, BigOly is just a moniker I use now. We sell canvas prints of our bird photos at art fairs near our second home in Baja Sur, Mexico. We’ve also won several bird photography contests, even one or two on WhatBird.com. Dr. David Goodfellow, the famous zoologist and owner of a publishing company from Great Britain, purchased one of our Xantus’s Hummingbird images to use in his soon-to-be-published “Hummingbirds of the World” book. We both contributed to our best selling book, “Birds We See” in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Part of the profits from this book goes to support ovarian cancer research at M.D. Anderson University Cancer Center in Texas.
Debbie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given six months to live nine years ago. With that prognosis in mind, we pulled all the stops and traveled much of the world to see and photograph birds. Her cancer will never be cured but we are thoroughly convinced that the joy of photographing birds everywhere we travel has been the right medicine. Like arm-wrestling with me, she’ll never give in to that cancer demon and for the love of birds, we live on, together.
Late at night, when the moon is easing through our bedroom window, I might roll over and say “Debbie, do you hear that Cape Pygmy Owl callin’?”. I can see her smile in the filtered light while she softly whispers something nasty in my ear.