I memorized its features as well as I could and, when I got back to town, went to the visitors’ center and bought my first field guide to birds, titled, “Birds of Utah.” I searched and found that the bird I had encountered was a black-headed grosbeak. It was an exciting discovery and I was hooked on identifying the birds with which I share the wilds of southeastern Utah.
Barbara and I recently completed our first turn as hosts at the Blue Mountain Guest Ranch. I will be going up there tomorrow for a two-week stay. Before beginning this new experience, I made a list of things I wanted to do while in that mountainous setting. Among the things on my list is to identify as many birds as I can in that setting.
As soon as we were set up and camp was squared away, I set up a card table, placed my “Birds of Utah” and another field guide by Audubon on the table along with my fine binoculars and a pen and note pad. Add a Pepsi and some munchies, and I was ready for the birds.
From my vantage, I was looking into about three-quarters of an acre of tall, slender ponderosa pine trees. There are open meadows and aspens nearby, but my view was restricted to the pines.
The first bird to come by was a mourning dove, which I identified by its cooing and the whistling of its wings in flight, as well as by sight. Next came a yellow-rumped warbler, which was new to me.
The next birds to come by comprised a flock of red crossbills. I had never seen crossbills before and was quite excited to see these. Next came the ravens, the northern flickers, the robins, the mountain bluebird, the calliope hummingbirds and the black-chinned hummingbirds (at the feeder). Next came the downy woodpecker, which is difficult to distinguish from the hairy woodpecker.
Next came the western bluebird and the western tanager, the pygmy nuthatch, the red-naped sapsucker and the Williamson’s sapsucker. Next was the ruby-crowned kinglet and the white-breasted nuthatch.
Imagine! All those birds in a three-quarter acre patch of ponderosa pines. I can’t wait to get out into the meadows and the aspens to see what might be there.
During one of my vigils I was interrupted to go take care of host duties. I was away from my table for about a half-hour. When I returned, the cookie I had left lying on the table was gone. Worse, the package of malt balls that Barbara had given me for father’s day had been gnawed open and two were extracted where the critter had chewed off the chocolate exterior, leaving the inner malt for me. Which, I thought, was nice of it.
Later, a fat, gray squirrel came poking around. When it got to within a few inches of my bare foot, I kicked at it. My big toe barely made contact. Judging by its bold return, I deduced that it was the culprit that stole my goodies.
I try to live without regret, but I do regret not getting into the birds at a younger age. Back then, I could have learned the names of birds and subsequently have remembered them. Even so, better late than never.