There have been a number of clues in these pages that I might have more than a casual interest in birds. I suppose I should just own up to the label of being a birder just as I got attached to my bike messenger nickname, “nice tim”. Neither of these titles will do much for my gritty urban street cred, but I guess I won’t worry about that because even though I’m feeling a whole new kind of roadtrip gritty, I’m not currently urban. So yes I’ll admit that I do a lot of bird watching. However I don’t really go out “birding”. I spend a lot of time outdoors for many reasons and the chance to see wildlife is one of the most important. Birds simply make themselves the most available and I imagine this is what attracts people to bird watching. You don’t even have to go outside to observe birds; by just looking out almost any window most of us can spot one within minutes. They are possibly the most animated and vocal expression of the fact that nature is always at hand.
Being able to fly they inspire our admiration and envy bringing us stories from afar with their songs. And, like the two of us, many do travel far to spend time in Texas. Because of it’s size, shape and diverse habitats an impressive variety of birds spend time here. It creates a sort of funnel for exotic birds that move north from the tropics or from even farther into South America. In summer, a number of birds go no further than the Rio Grande Valley or the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend. Wintertime brings birds that have nested and raised young in the far north. These travelers, north and south are remarkable survivors and for millennia have had no reason to concern themselves with political boundaries. Today their ancient flyways have become gauntlets with safe havens harder to come by as development has reduced and degraded their rest stops.
In Port Aransas we got the chance to participate in The Whooping Crane Festival, a celebration of a species that tells this story well. The tallest bird on the continent, a bird that needs a little bit of space, it was nearly wiped out, down to a couple dozen birds in the 1940’s. This animal is definitely walking the edge of survival. We’ve set aside some space for it on both ends of it’s migration and done breeding programs that have brought their numbers up but we have to hope that we haven’t pushed it to far. Nature can’t often respect our limited boundaries.
There is a sacrifice I suppose for the gift of flight; a certain vulnerability of body, a dependence on the larger world to be intact when you decide to come down to land. At a desert lake in Nevada I once held a recently dead barn owl. It was a beautiful creature, it’s feathers and body still possessed the lithe and tight smoothness that allowed it to silently traverse the night sky. In my hands though the body felt too insubstantial. It was as if only part of its form existed in the same world with me, but that there was another more substantial aspect that was held in some other universe.