After the Fact: Birds of a feather


My brother Steve calls me every year about this time (or a little earlier) to let me know “the cranes are coming.” Good thing, too, because it’d be a shame to have a Crane Festival if the cranes decided to just spend all year down in the Bosque del Apache reserve.

Steve takes his dogs out for a walk every morning though the distance has become shorter as the years go by and the dogs (and Steve) get older. When his Labs were young or middle aged, they’d all walk a couple of miles in the neighborhood or even more if Steve took them to the Jemez Mountains, not too far from where they live. One of “the boys,” Turk, is gone now but Deuce bravely soldiers on with his new companion, a pound-type mop named Otto. Otto has short legs so he has a hard time keeping up.

The dogs are oblivious, but Steve notices every bird, every mammal, reptile and insect along the way. He knows when the cranes are coming and when they’re going. I’ll call him in the fall, when they start to leave the fields around Monte Vista though he’ll probably have already seen a few going south before I even notice they’re gone.

While Steve has bird feeders and bird houses and assorted places for birds to build nests around the house, he’s not as knowledgeable about bird species as is our brother, Lonny, but both are eons ahead of what I know and birds I can identify. In my vocabulary, if it’s overhead and it honks, it’s either a goose or a duck; if it purrs, it’s a crane. All else may as well be walking.  I was astounded when, several years ago, I happened to be driving to the golf course to meet friends for lunch and saw some odd looking birds across the street. So, after lunch, I took a detour over to the viewing and parking area. The things floating on the water looked almost like pelicans I’d seen on National Geographic, but, of course, that many pelicans couldn’t be that far off course. 

I think he might have been from Game and Fish, but a guy in a uniform was walking toward me, so I asked the obvious: “Do you know what kind of birds those are?” Well, he did, and they were. I could hardly wait to get home so I could tell Lonny (this was before we all had cell phones). Well, he hadn’t seen any, but he wasn’t surprised, and mildly entertained that I was.

While I enjoy the birds that visit our yard (yes, we have bird feeders and bird houses, too), I’m far more entertained by the deer that walk through, peering into the front windows before they amble down to the next yard, the buffalo that graze through the fields down the way, and the occasional elk crossing the road by the wildlife refuge. They’re easier to see at a distance and a lot easier to identify. Though do you remember the lady who called “911” to report a reindeer in her front yard? It turned out to be an errant moose, asked to leave his “herd” by the head honcho thereof and lost in the “wilderness” of civilization. That’s an easy mistake to make if you’re from Texas and come to the Valley only to escape summer in the south. And bugs the size of a John Deere tractor.

Speaking of the south, I taught one year for a school district in southeastern New Mexico where the late summer-early fall temperatures are somewhere between roasting and fried. If I hadn’t already signed my contract, I’d have left after my first week in that place. On a good day, it smells like oil. On a bad day, it smells like the inside of a cattle truck. Most days, it’s a blend of the two. I’d been there two days when I ambled to the kitchen to make coffee and there, in my sink, was a 5” long scorpion (length not including the curled up tail section). I parboiled that thing where it sat, fished it out with kitchen tongs and threw it over the back fence. The largest scorpion I’d ever seen up until then was about 1/4”, embedded in a Lucite cube, dangling from a chain.

Other than that, their restaurants serve Tex-Mex food, they cheer for the Dallas Cowboys and the landscaping is heavy into 2,000 varieties of cactus, all with 6” long spines. They wouldn’t know an aspen from an evergreen. And I think the only birds that flourish there are buzzards.

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