I’ve reluctantly gone pro

Posted June 8th, 2011 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

There have been opportunities in the past for me to help with local birding festivals by acting as a guide for visiting (and paying) bird watchers, but I’ve stiff-armed every request prior to this year.  Curiously I gave in to pressures this spring and agreed to guide for two separate ones–the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds and the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival (Carrington, ND).

While it’s still not the preferred way for me to get out and enjoy the birds, I must confess it was pretty fun.

Last week I led a small group of out-of-staters north out of Carrington in search of “good” birds, and therein lies a lesson. What is ho-hum for one, is likely a “good” bird for another.

Most of the prairie and woodland birds can be most easily located by sound. And so as we travelled along I called out the various species I was hearing. ‘Sedge wren,’ I announced as we passed a grassy area. Sure enough, this was a bird new to most of the customers. So we stopped and, after a time, got great looks at this quite common prairie bird.

But it was while passing a shelter belt of trees that I received the loudest message. I heard blue jays calling from the woods as we whisked by and mentioned it to the passengers. One older gentleman from Salt Lake City quietly declared, “I’ve never seen a blue jay.” Amazing as that might sound, it’s pretty easy for someone from Utah not to have seen a blue jay. We spent the next 10 minutes searching through the trees until this guy got his life view of the bird. The rest of the day was filled with similar experiences–nesting northern waterthrushes, ruddy turnstones in breeding plummage, Wilson’s phalaropes defending nesting territory. It was, admittedly, quite fun for me. Not so much for what birds I found but for the reaction of those seeing them. It was a pleasure to be a part of their joy.

In addition to rekindling my appreciation for the somewhat limited number of birds we enjoy here in North Dakota, I got another lesson in making assumptions. The Carrington festival has hosted a bird celebrity of sorts since its inception some nine years ago–the editor of Bird Watchers Digest, Bill Thompson III and his lovely wife Julie Zickefoose. I had known of this and held the mistaken impression this was some haughty guy with a matching ego. I was wrong, very wrong.

Not only is this couple a joy to be around, but they bring remarkable musical talent–Bill on his guitar and Julie with various other instruments–to the festival every year during an evening at a nearby farmstead. In addition, their notable vocals blended perfectly (I guess they’ve done this a few times, duh) with the prairie backdrop: subtle but exact and strong. Had I known I’d be treated to a long evening of folksy blues I might have been an annual attendee from the start.

Upon leaving I was asked, “You’ll do it again next year won’t you?” I gave them the strongest commitment yet, a definite maybe.

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