Recently, my daughter and I tried to pawn ourselves off as serious birders. We should have known better because in no time the real birders blew our cover.
A good friend and a true birder, invited us to go to a meeting of the
Kansas and Oklahoma Ornithological Societies held near ,
which is right in the midst of Black Mesa.
She knows the region surrounding Black Mesa, Oklahoma, draws me like a magnet draws iron filings. I am not certain why this area speaks so loudly to my spirit, but it does, loudly and clearly. Anytime I have a chance to visit, I can pack and be ready to load up in less time than it takes to make a ham sandwich.
I explained to my friend that, although I love to watch and feed the birds out in my yard, I am not an expert birder, Duh! She has experienced several outings with me in tow, so she knew that. What better way to get into the spirit of birding though than to take me to one of my favorite spots on the planet!
She assured me I could not embarrass her, so I hustled about finishing my end of the year, pre-graduation duties. As I scurried from one task to another, I made mental lists of necessities one might need when birding. Binoculars came to mind and a bird book appropriate to the area, in addition to sleeping bags, sunscreen, water bottles, and cameras.
We left in the early evening and arrived after midnight. I could not wait to awaken to the sun rising over the mesa and to breathe in the piñon and sage scented air. After stumbling from my bunk to find the latrine, I discovered early rising birders outside the cabins, looking diligently among the rocks and bushes on the mesa for various rare birds. At that point I quickly realized the first thing I had forgotten to pack. My binoculars. Bad move if I wanted to be seen as a serious birder.
Numerous participants mingled among the buildings gazing through their binoculars at unusual sightings flitting through the sagebrush and over the rocks. I could barely see shapes, let alone identify critters. Identify critters! Oh, no! I had left the bird book at home on the shelf also!
Not an auspicious beginning, I thought to myself. These people were serious. They owned high-powered binoculars and each one carried several identification books.
I did, however, have a water bottle. Feeling guilty, I did not want to tell my friend about my forgetfulness until we were well on our way. No reason to give her a reason to turn around and head back to
until we had found some Indian pictographs and seen the dinosaur tracks.
Shortly after breakfast, we joined a caravan that wound around the mesa into
Colorado throughout the
morning. Birders stop regularly we
discovered. Before we had warmed the
engine up, we were peering into the distance looking at a specific kind of
woodpecker unique to this area. At this
point, my daughter and I could not keep the secret of the missing binoculars
and books any longer, but our friend did not kick us out and leave us in the
middle of nowhere.
Soon after this stop, we reached a point where we got out to hike to view the birds. At this time, my daughter and I revealed our true natures. Everyone there looked up into the trees, bushes, and sky for interesting birds to watch. While they looked skyward, we had our noses to the ground, checking out rocks.
Yes, our true love is looking for rocks, and Black Mesa has millions of them to examine. At first, we tried to be discreet and pretend we noticed all the bird varieties every one else kept raving about, but one really serious birder kept giving us funny looks.
The rest of the morning proceeded much like this. We stopped and hiked. The birders walked with necks crooked back, eyes to the sky and tree tops. My eighteen-year-old and I tried. We really did, but our necks crooked down of their own accord, and we kept spotting great rocks we had to kneel to examine. When we found the canyon with the Indian pictographs carved on the rock walls, we left the birders and hiked in for a closer look.
Soon afterward, the lady I mentioned earlier, the really serious birder, made a point of walking close enough to comment, “Exactly why are you here?”
At that point, I knew she had my number. I had to confess. I explained we came on false pretences. We really do love birds, but we love rocks even more. And even more than that, we love Black Mesa.
However, something must have rubbed off. Or my friend had an ulterior motive! Now that we are home again, I find myself listening very carefully to birds’ songs. I catch the thrashers’ mockingbird-like repetitions. When I hear a phoebe call, I wonder, is it a true phoebe or a chickadee? I notice the birds flitting about even more than I did before. Maybe birds are more interesting than rocks. . .