An irony of geese.

March 13th, 2016

Say it’s back in the middle of the last century. You’re a kid who likes jungle stories and wild places. You hang out in a prairie south of Chicago.

It’s got an industrial taint since there are adjacent factories and dumps. But, hell, Illinois is the Prairie State, and you can’t quash its elemental nature.

It’s a place of birds, snakes, and adventure. Even though you’re a roughneck, your interest in wild things gives you names for what you see. They’re not just birds; they’re Red-winged Blackbirds.

Or Bobolinks and Green Herons. Sometimes yellow Meadowlarks capture your attention while your friends are looking under flat rocks for coiled snakes, and finding them.

You’re a kid who reads about wild things. The general view is that nature will lose out to human overgrowth. Birds will get scarcer as you get older.


One day, after a rain, there’s a swamp in your prairie.

In it, floats a lone Canada Goose. A big, unusual bird for that time and place.

Word spread, and soon a man parks a pickup and wades into the water carrying a shotgun.

He shot a wing right off, and the bird swam in circles, making small cries.

Seeing this as a sad kid you figured the birds of nature wouldn’t have a chance in their ongoing competition with humans.

Today, you’re not a kid. You live in a citified suburb outside the big, smoking city of Chicago. You walk the dog, and—irony of ironies—there are healthy Canada Geese all over the place.

At least two mated pairs are on your lawn. They saunter off, unconcerned, as you get near. You’re not worth the effort it would take to fly out of the yard.

The irony is heavy, just like the bodies of these big geese.

Back when you were a kid, you figured they had no future. Now it’s the science-fiction year of 2016, and the place is full of goose droppings.

Geese aren’t just in residential neighborhoods. There’s a big shopping mall nearby, and geese are in pairs on the cement parking lot. They nest under lampposts in the mall’s gardens.

Ironically, geese are here today with a vengeance.

As some character says in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.”

Groups of geese are called “gaggles” according to quaint terminology.

And when flying, they’re called “skeins,”

A gaggle of geese. Or a skein of geese. Both phrases are outdated. You’ve got a better one.

It comes to you as you look out the window. There’s a group on the lawn now, grazing. An “irony of geese.”

The missing tree.

December 31st, 2015

From spring through fall, an old dead tree near a highway has many cormorants in it. It’s been their hangout for generations. People drive by and think they’re seeing crows or maybe vultures. But they’re cormorants.

On this winter day, you drive past that spot and notice the tree’s no longer there. When things warm up and cormorants return, they’re going to look for it.

You continue down the road, away from the blank space where the cormorants’ tree used to be. The gap back there reminds you of a missing tooth.

When the cormorants come they’ll hover over it in confusion for a while. You feel a kind of philosophical shoulder-shrug sorrow for this inevitable truth.

Their world is going to be shaken. They’ll manage, of course. But the fact that such things happen to birds and man is disconcerting, like the ominous appearance of a cormorant itself.

If you’re around next spring, and if you drive past the tree that’s not there and you see that there are no cormorants, you’ll know that your life has been changed a little.

Yeah, your life. Sure, it’s the cormorants that have been affected. But they were your cormorants. And that old dead tree was your old dead tree. A part of your world that got a tooth knocked out.



Storm Robin

August 17th, 2015

 It’s raining like crazy over a woodland lake the way it does sometimes on an August day that starts sunny.

The sky darkens. Low clouds roll over and unload. The lake’s surface makes you think of machine-gun fire.

Thunderclaps encourage that idea, and lightning. Wind shakes trees. Leaves and branches fly off and spin around.

Somebody’s lawn chair blows into the lake.

Water comes down with sound and fury as Shakespeare said somewhere.

But unlike his sound and fury, this isn’t a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.

It’s a tale told by a warm front in disagreement with a cold front signifying nothing. Except the uncertainty of August sunshine.

Now a bird flies across the lake through the rain. It’s an American Robin but this bird’s name is not important.

What’s important is its improbable, implacable route. Flying straight through all that wind and rain, in spite of it all.

You wonder: where’s it going? What’s so important there? How can it maintain altitude when the weight of so much water is pushing down on its back? What’s it thinking?

You’ll never know. And it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that you feel an unexpected moment of admiration for a bird flying unfazed through a storm. This makes your day.

Not “Unseen.” More like “Uncanny.”

October 2nd, 2014

On May 26, 2012, we published a post titled “Unseen.” It said Northern Flickers hadn’t been noticed much around here recently.

Separately, people who saw a Flicker and weren’t sure what kind of bird it was, went online to search for a picture that could help them identify it. They found our post with its photo, and the bird’s name.

Many sent us a comment to let us know. Seems Flickers weren’t “unseen” everywhere.

It’s normal for a post to get a few comments, but “Unseen” generated an uncanny number. Close to a hundred at last count.

And they still come in. Some in response to that 2012 post, and some to the one you’re reading now.

2. male Northern Flicker - ground feeding woodpecker 30 sep 2014 nama landfil_1 copy

Flickers are out there, even though experts have reported they’re declining.

Well, they’re not declining on this site. Here’s another picture.

Ray and Barbara from North Adams, Massachusetts were nice enough to send it.

Flickers may be scarce in our neck of the woods, but they’re still spotted.


February 25th, 2014

Years ago, you’re in an office on the 26th floor of a Chicago skyscraper, doing work profoundly unrelated to nature.

You have the feeling of being watched.

You look over your shoulder.

On the other side of your window there’s a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, clinging to the building, meeting your gaze.


The bird had picked your window. Not the window of some guy who wouldn’t know a sapsucker from his elbow.

You grab a cheap throw-away camera and get a picture.

The shot is poor. Dark and fuzzy. You find it recently, while cleaning out a desk.

Back when you saw the sapsucker, you had the momentary feeling that it sought you out, personally.

Looking at the old picture, you still wonder about that.

But you shake off the thought.

You just chalk it up to the simple truth that sometimes you watch the birds, and sometimes they watch you.

Bird points and ice-age basketball.

February 10th, 2014

You get the paper from the bottom of your driveway on this winter morning.

Heading back, you notice that heavy icicles hang from your roof. They look like downward-pointing swords high above the doorstep.

But more about them in a moment…

"4 points!"

“4 points!”

Inside, from a kitchen window you notice the backyard bird feeders.

They’re busy, and you stop to watch. An idea hits.

You assign points to the birds you see.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jays: four points.

Cardinals and White-breasted Nuthatches, three.

Downy Woodpeckers and Song Sparrows, two. Slate-colored Juncos, one. You get bonus points for a deer that joins the seed-eating, its breath steaming.

It occurs to you that the word ‘point’ is used in a lot of games. Why?

Did ancient athletes poke opponents with sword points, and each point counted?

Maybe the word ‘point’ then evolved to measure scoring in other kinds of contests.

Something to wonder about. But the thought of swords and points reminds you of those icicles.

You leave the house and go out front. You bring your basketball from the cold garage. It’s rock hard.

You shoot the ball toward the roof. A high, arching jump shot.

Bam, it smashes the longest icicle, knocking it down.

Heavy ice splatters the steps.

Hey, a three pointer.

There are more icicles. You assign points to them.

A three. A two. You shoot. You score.

This is fun. You’ve got ice points in the front. Bird points in the back. Let’s hear it for winter sports.

A Vulture’s Daydream.

December 9th, 2013

The trail hand was complaining about bad cards. Doc ignored him, and dealt the man another losing hand.

It was hot in the airless saloon. Doc was shining with sweat, and coughed into a handkerchief.

As Doc reached for the money in the center of the table, the trail hand suggested the deal had been less than fair. Everyone got quiet.

Both men rose from their chairs. Time stood still, and so did they. Head to head. Eye to eye.

Doc coughed. The trail hand didn’t care about the spray of fevered breath. He cared about Doc’s gun hand.

Doc said, “Sir, I am too unwell to draw at this time.” Backing away, palms open, he added, “Take the pot.” Doc turned, and disappeared through swinging doors into the Arizona night.

Weeks later, back on the open range, the trail hand watched a Turkey Vulture circling him at end of day as he rode.

The vulture and a nagging cough had been recent acquisitions.

The trail hand, chilled and sweating, spit a bloody slime onto a nearby rock. The blood turned from red to black in the setting sun.

Doc Holiday never knew about the blackness on the rock, or that he’d earned himself another sort of notch.

Kicking a stereotype.

September 19th, 2013

Sunday, early. Bushwhacking through woods and fields. You see the first waves of fall migrants. Warblers, thrushes, hawks in groups. It’s a whole new ball game as the season changes.

But you can’t stay.

You gotta get home to watch the Bears kickoff. During the game, a familiar idea comes to mind: Stereotype busting.

(It’s the reason behind this website. You know: birders are rugged, not stereotypical geeks. We’ve said this before.)

How did the Bears kick a stereotype right out of the stadium? Here’s how:

Today’s new coach is a thin guy in glasses, and they say he’s got a law degree. Not exactly the old-time image of “Da Bears.”

Never underestimate anybody.

He was a college quarterback, then a big-time winner in cold Canadian pro football. A stereotype buster.

You liked watching the birds change with the season as you slogged through the wilds in the morning. And later that day you liked seeing an intellect in glasses have his team kick ass.


September 4th, 2013

The only bird in the quiet woods was a Great Crested Flycatcher. It’s not unusual, normally. But normal isn’t always normal any more.

You hadn’t seen one for a while and it triggered the thought of a Ferruginous Hawk. Why? It didn’t look anything like a hawk. But there was a link somewhere in your mind.

You think of a story written years ago, buried now in the “Stories” section of this website. “The Ferruginous Hawk.”

The link between this story and the sighting of a single flycatcher in an empty woodland is there, maybe—but you’d have to read the story again to know for sure.

And you could do that. Because of a link. You could click the last word in this post, and be taken there.

It’s just a piece of short fiction, written for the hell of it. But some stories get under your skin. They surprise you by coming to the surface when you don’t expect it.

Like when you see a lone Great Crested Flycatcher. A bird that’s no Ferruginous Hawk. But still, there’s a link.

Leave it to beaver.

August 9th, 2013

Today, a neighbor said we’ve got beavers. No smartass reply welcome. The guy was serious. Some trees were gnawed, and might fall.

We live near water. Nice to sit at the end of the day and look at this water with trees reflected in it.

In one of the trees an American Bittern stares down at you. This wading bird should be in reeds, but it’s up a tree. Birds do what they want.

There are orioles and tanagers in these shoreline woods. Phoebes, too. They like to hunt over the water and return to a hanging branch. You see Belted Kingfishers sometimes.

And Red-winged Blackbirds very often. You might think these are so common they’re boring. But they never get boring. None of this stuff gets boring.

The neighbor said the powers that be in this community are thinking of hiring a beaver removal service. “Humane relocation” guaranteed. A claim that makes your BS detector go off.

But if more trees get chewed, it could come to that. Leave it to the beavers. Let’s hope they relocate on their own.

Bottom Line.

July 20th, 2013

Marc Davis is a guy who lived in El Paso with Roadrunners, and in Greenwich Village where he once saw a vagrant Sooty Tern.

The fact that something was sooty (or vagrant) in the Village wasn’t unusual. The fact that it was a bird of the tropics was.

But interesting things are where you find them.

A book recommendation isn’t usually found on a birding website. Yet sometimes, you find one there…

In addition to keeping an eye on birds, Marc Davis has spent a lifetime keeping an eye on everything else.

Marc Davis

That’s why he’s a perceptive writer. You’ve seen his stuff. He has four guest essays in our “Guest Essay” category.

To the frustration of the more prolific guest essayist, Bob Grump, Marc’s essays consistently draw hits and fan mail.

Marc’s insights are eclectic. He’s classed up our site with his writing, and we’re pleased to point out that he’s just published a novel.

It’s his third, and interesting as hell because it’s contemporary, cynical, truthful, engaging, fast moving, sexy. And it skewers amoral greedy bastards who need skewering.

Publishers Weekly says “Davis provides easy explanations of complex business dealings and foreign adventures before reaching an exciting conclusion in this smartly executed financial thriller.”

And best-selling novelist Michael Connelly says, “I loved this…half corporate insider story, half private eye yarn, full on entertainment. I read it start to finish in one sitting.”

We have writers who regularly communicate with us, like Jan Dunlap, author of the Birder Murder series, and Suzie Gilbert who wrote the book “Flyaway.”

Plus, short story writers who send comments and stories.

Seems we’re not just into bird watching around here; but word watching, too.

Bottom line: If you want a good read, try Marc Davis’s new novel, “Bottom Line.”

Then, after its shattering ending get out in the clean air to see some birds and clear your mind.

That’s no bird.

July 16th, 2013

When you’re out in the deep woods, you might focus on a woodpecker, and discover there’s a porcupine on the next branch.

Or you look at vultures picking at something in a clearing, and notice that a coyote is looking back at you from the tree line.

It’s good to get out where the birds are. More than good. It’s wild.

While birding, you might see muskrat, beaver, mink, snapping turtles, alligators. You’ll come across deer, a sure thing.

Could be you’ll see snakes, moose, elk, fox, antelope, javelinas, armadillos, wild sheep, maybe a bear.

You might spot a Pine Marten, if you’re lucky.

Marten sounds like a bird’s name. When you talk about it later, people think you’re talking about a Purple Martin, something like that.

But it’s no bird. It’s a predatory mammal, all fur, teeth and claws. It hunts in trees, and is rarely seen.

“Pine Marten” is also the name of a fiction piece in our Stories section.

Well, we call it fiction. But, like everything mentioned here, it comes from real life.

Audible twist.

June 2nd, 2013

Stereotype breaking took an audible twist today.

We already know that the whole point of this website is to break the stereotype that bird watchers are dweeby.

They’re wildlife explorers of all kinds and can’t be pigeon holed. This is made clear on our home page, and in the short essay about our name.

But back to the audible twist.

A guy you met today, no dweeb, says, “Damnit, I’m not seeing the birds I’m hearing!”

He chugs the rest of his beer, crushes the can like a paper cup, then goes on.

“I heard a Black-capped Chickadee, Cardinal, Northern Oriole, Hermit Thrush…”

And he names some others.

Then says, “I didn’t have binoculars, wasn’t near feeders, and the trees are too thick. All I could do was hear ‘em.”

It was a complaint. But you took it as a testament to this guy’s ears and his knowledge of birdcalls.

You think to yourself, hey, a new twist in stereotype breaking: the Two-Fisted Bird Listener.

Where you find ’em.

May 10th, 2013

A while back, you were in a Chicago bar. Through an alley window you saw a fairly uncommon Eastern Towhee.

There were some city weeds among the cracked pavement there. Still, you wouldn’t go in that alley to see birds. Maybe you’d go to see rats.

But when it comes to birds, you gotta expect the unexpected. Birds are found where you find them.

Same thing goes for finding two-fisted birdwatchers.

You know a guy, six-one, two-twenty, mostly muscle. Played starting center years ago in high school. He’s been known to scare bouncers in night clubs.

These days he’s into the wife and kids, pizza, workouts, real estate deals. Not exactly the old-school image of a birder.

(We don’t like the old-school image of birders. That’s what this website is all about).

Today you got an email from this guy with some excitement in it. He wrote: “Hey, just saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird out my bedroom window!”

Little bird. Big guy. Is it surprising that he cared? Hell, no. Two-fisted birdwatchers, like birds themselves, are found where you find them.


Ducks ain’t birds.

May 3rd, 2013

The views expressed by guest essayists do not reflect the opinions of Two-Fisted Birdwatcher or anybody else for that matter. Especially when the guest essayist is the recurring Bob Grump. But we still publish his stuff, whether we agree with him or not. And besides—the guy’s just playing with us. Or is he?

~       ~      ~        ~      

Ducks ain’t birds.

By Bob Grump

They’re ducks. Geese ain’t birds, either. And neither are seagulls. Chickens sure as hell ain’t birds. Don’t care about ‘em at all. Loons ain’t birds. Now you might be thinking I’m one of them. A loon.

A duck butt not a bird in my book!

I wouldn’t blame you, because all that stuff I just said is loony. But it makes sense to me.

Coots ain’t birds, either. And you might think I’m one of them, although you’d have no way of knowing if I’m a coot or a loon.

Looniness and being a coot go together, most of the time. But not always.

But, where was I?  Oh yeah, if ducks and the like ain’t birds, then what ARE the real birds? Hold on. I’ll get to that.

I’m a guy who spends half his life in wild parts of the upper Midwest. I walk through weeds, into woods, along lakeshores and up and down rivers.

I get mosquito bites, ticks dig me, I get scratched by thorns and I get covered with those sticky burrs that come off plants I wade through. I’ve seen bears, but mostly their ass ends because bears like to run off when I’m comin’.

I watch a lot of birds when I’m out in the sticks. And they ain’t ducks!

They’re bird-shaped honest to Pete birds that look like birds. Robins, swallows, thrushes, woodpeckers, hawks, meadowlarks, bobolinks, kingbirds, orioles, tanagers, bluebirds, finches, sparrows, you know what I’m talking about: real birds.

When I’m out in the wild and I see a real bird there, say a Brown Thrasher, I figure, awright! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

"A Dick what...?"

I have started thinking of myself as a two-fisted birdwatcher, thanks to your Johnny-come-lately web magazine of this name.

You are two-fisted in some ways I guess. (I like the picture of  booze on your Facebook page).  But in other ways you’re smartass, talkin’ about books and all.

Still, when I hold binoculars in my scratched-up scabby old two fists, and I see some real birds, I do get a two-fisted kick. Wanted you to know that, pal.

It’s not because the birds I see are unusual, either. Although sometimes they are. Hell, I saw a Dickcissel. A bird with a stupid name that I commented about in an earlier guest essay.

No, I get a kick because real birds are little bits of red, white and blue freedom.

Now, okay, you duck lovers, you seagull lovers, you coot, loon and goose lovers—you’re probably sayin’….what the hell!

How about these birds you like so much? They’re free, and sorta colorful, too. I refuse to argue about this. All I’m sayin’ is that they don’t do it for me.

For me a bird is a bird that looks like a bird. I wouldn’t walk across the street to look at a duck. I’d walk across a mountain to look at a Clark’s Nutcracker, though.

That’s how it is, as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t care if anybody likes it or not. I’m going birdwatching now, not duckwatching, so enough talk.

Rare birds.

April 28th, 2013

Saturday April 27. Dateline: the couch. There’s a sprained back in the picture, but you’re too busy to care about it.

Because you’re doing two kinds of bird watching.

One: you’re looking out the window. There’s been floodwater out there recently, so you’re seeing an uncommon Caspian Tern circling. He’s lost or nuts. You’re not on the Caspian Sea.

Two: you’re watching a rare bird named Robinson make history in the Bulls playoff against the Nets.

This guy is a five-nine, one-man show in a world of giants. He’s turning the tide in a game that was going downhill. It takes Robinson and his two-fisted teammates three overtimes to win, but they do, with historic stats.

Nate Robinson proves that little is big. Impossible is possible. Man can fly.

But what about the Caspian Tern? You saw it through your window, a sighting appreciated in Illinois. But it wasn’t the rarest of the day. Not with Nate Robin…son making a kind of rare bird life-list this season.

Search Caspian Terns on the net for your birdwatching fix. Then search Nate Robinson’s game-four performance in the Bulls-Nets playoff game for your two-fisted fix.


Time and a favorite bird.

April 9th, 2013

Take your kids to Disney World over the years, and they change like time-lapse photography.

This place makes you notice time passing. You also notice birds. Including a favorite, which I’ll get to in a minute.

First, quick impressions: A Mockingbird on an umbrella table. A pair of Ospreys hunting over Bay Lake. They don’t care if the lake’s manmade. Its fish are real.

Anhingas and Double-crested Cormorants are on the shoreline. White Ibises walk among crowds. Long-legged tropical birds acting like pigeons. Goofy.

Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures watch. Maybe a goofy Ibis is dead. Or a feral pig rots in the palmettos. There’s a lot to eat at Disney World.

A Wild Turkey walks the golf course. Boat-tailed Grackles are common. American Coots float in Fantasy Land. A Bald Eagle circles above it all.

Then there’s an all-time favorite bird. He was around when you were a kid and still is. Things change, but not him.


January 22nd, 2013

Here’s another piece in the distinctive style of Nath Jones. A “Best New American Voices” nominee, Jones received an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her publishing credits include PANK Magazine, There Are No Rules, and Sailing World. She lives and writes in Chicago.

~     ~     ~


By Nath Jones

What else? You know, it’s really the story of that Great Horned Owl in Drexel Woods.

So. When I was a kid there was an abandoned Indian Normal School with broken windows in these woods surrounded by cornfields on three sides and a state highway on the fourth.

Someone, maybe him, had heard the owl there. Dad rousted us out of bed in the middle of the night, whizzed over to the college in either the Nova or the Citation, got out of the car, and started shouting, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!” repeatedly up into the trees.

How could we take this seriously? I had a lot of respect for my father. The guy had more dignity than almost anyone I know. But. In that moment? Really, Dad?

Then he’d stop, keep looking up, and say, “Girls!”

Well. Mom was stifling her laughs in the front seat trying to be a good example for her children. Genny? I don’t know. She was either asleep or uninvolved. Inert somehow. Probably in as much disbelief as I was. But. Me?

Jesus. I was in middle school. My father was shouting monosyllables up into the dark heights of trees. I just wanted out.  But he was so excited.


I mean, this guy loved birds. And. So. Okay. Yes. I would have loved to have shared my father’s enthusiasm in the moment.

“Do you hear it!?!”

No. No, I didn’t hear it. There was nothing. I heard my sister shifting to get more comfortable in the car, heard her head quietly thump against what might have been a rolled up sweatshirt on the glass. Cars were going by every once in a while on 231. I heard that. There was a little breeze so, yes, I heard the oaks moving in the night. But nothing else. No owl.

"It may be gone..."

Deflated, he admitted, “It may be gone.”

Really? You think? For twenty-five minutes he’d been hooting up that owl going, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!” up into the blackness around all those trees. And for twenty-five minutes, nothing returned his call.

Dad might have stayed forever, wanting, needing, insisting, hoping, waiting, listening, listening so hard, desiring so much to share the wonder of it, the rarity, the once-in-a-lifetime encounter, the whole perfect moment, if my mother hadn’t said, “Duvall. The girls have school in the morning.”

I didn’t say a word. Nothing. But. Yeah. It was there. Come on, Dad. It’s gone. Or. Not talking to you. Or. Something. But. Can we please go home and go back to bed?

He looked up into the night. He looked back into the car. “Girls! I want you to hear it.” He could have climbed into the sky, would have if it were possible, surely cupped his hands around his mouth, and called again.

“Did you hear it?”

You cannot—cannot—tell your birdwatching father that you hear the call of a Great Horned Owl if you don’t. It betrays all sense of familial honor. Just eyes into the night, all of us, together.

I said, “No, Dad. I don’t hear it,” no matter what he wanted for me, no matter what he needed me to share of what was most his in this life and experience. He didn’t have to have it. But he had to try, at least once more.

So through that uplifted jawline, through those opened-prayer curves of his two cupped hands, I just heard, hopeful forever, one voice to the sky, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah! Hoo-hoo-hoo-wah-wah!”

Take Five.

December 27th, 2012

Dave Brubeck died a few weeks ago. Saw this while working at my computer. Hell. Brubeck.

Well, the guy lives on in a jazzy, smoky, boozy, sexy, moody and rhythmic corner of your mind.

What’s the connection between Brubeck and going hiking? Why mention him on a birdwatching website?

There’s not much smoky, boozy, jazzy stuff happening in the woods.

At least Charlie Parker, also a jazz great, was named “Bird.” But wait.

When I heard Brubeck split the scene, I decided to take a break and walk in the wild for a while. I left work, left my computer with its news of the day, and got into the day.

Brubeck’s quartet made “Take Five” immortal. Even better, it was on an album called “Time Out.” These escapist titles send a clear message.

Maybe they’re the connection. Or maybe it just feels right to put a few words down about a guy whose wild talent will never stop being appreciated.

In any case, I took five.

 ~  ~  ~ 


December 20th, 2012

By Nath Jones

Nath Jones is a writer in Chicago. She wrote that she grew up with bird watching parents. She explained that they listened to bird call records all day, planned family trips around migration paths, spent hours silent in idling cars, and almost all family traditions involved birds in some ways. She wrote to say that she’s got a bunch of ideas for guest essays. And sent the following…

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A year ago I took my mother to the Bahamas to see the birds for her birthday.

Our guide was a thin woman who’d raised her children on a sailboat. We definitely wanted to see as many species as possible. She had lots of locations for us: wetlands near Atlantis, quiet roadside stops near construction areas, a path with some grassy clearings at the headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust, and an elderly woman’s backyard.

My father was an avid birdwatcher so I’m familiar with behavior like standing stock-still and silent in a parking lot, looking up into dense trees, listening. I’m familiar with rushing along a path after a fluttering something. And scanning a focused area through binoculars came right back even though I hadn’t really been birding since well before my father’s death in 2005.

But going to this elderly woman’s backyard in the Bahamas was really something.

When you pay a guide for a tour—like, say, a winery tour, or a tour of local architecture—you’d expect to be ushered from one place of significance to another.

But when our guide made a quick cell phone call, turned down a residential street, and parked abruptly near a nondescript house, my mother and I just sort of looked at each other. Like, “What’s happening?”

Now. When I was a kid in a small town in Indiana, yes, we had a nondescript house with a bird feeder out back. And. Yes. Over the years many wonderful birds stopped in our backyard. We enjoyed watching them from the kitchen table during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But. Even if my father were a very good birdwatcher, even if that bird feeder were the main focus of our interest and afforded us almost all our mealtime conversation, our house was never a stopping point on any ecotour.

Anyway. Mom and I are curious enough and polite enough that, of course, we got out of the car in the Bahamas on this residential side street. And. Yes. Okay. Fine. We nervously followed our guide who rushed right into the backyard.

We took our seats in lawn chairs against the house. Five feet in front of us were about twelve different kinds of feeders. There were hanging columns like our finch feeders. There were flat, open, square-screened frames hung in trees. They swung gently under the weight of birds landing and taking off. Ropes and twine and clotheslines ran in all directions from bush to bush, feeder to feeder, so all the migrants had plenty of places to rest.

So. There we were.  At someone’s house in the Bahamas.

With hundreds of warblers and finches and little flitting, chatting, busy, hopping birds: Cuban grassquits, American redstarts, bananaquits, and several red-legged thrushes.

The elderly woman who owned the house came out for a few minutes. She was in her housecoat and slippers. Sat with us. Indicated a few favorites. Especially the bright, beautiful red, indigo, and green male painted bunting.

Mom pointed, thrilled. I took a picture.