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.

2 Responses to “Stopover.”

  1. g. bird says:

    I’m envous of your trip with your Mother, I have many lovely memories of my Mother, but she worked all the time to support 5 daughters, so not many outdoor ones. Having always wanted to see a painted bunting and pray,that one day one will come to my feeders, it will never be the same as sitting by my Mother to see it. Lucky you.

  2. dorothy a jones says:

    I love it! After decades of hoping to see this bird outside a zoo or conservatory, After sweating it out with your father on a dead-end estuary pier in South Carolina, and wandering alone across Bear (Bare) Island in North Carolina, to finally see this beautiful bird fly in to a back yard feeder, along with females of the species, was a lifetime treat. That whole day was one terrific birthday! Thanks, Nath…