Dr. Mark Crawford and his wife Lee surprised me by driving to my former office in the Seattle area in a full-sized Ford pickup with all-wheel drive and a canopy. Dr. Crawford worked in a laboratory, his wife worked in a mall, and each commuted to work in heavy Seattle traffic. They were ecologically conscious. Their truck was not.
“We’re birders,” they explained. “The truck gets us to where the birds are, and we camp in it.” When I told them I was moving to Wenatchee, they were excited for me. “It’s a great place to see birds! Start with the Confluence Park.”
My 87-year-old father-in-law, who has retired to watching birds in his back yard, told me, “Get in touch with the Audubon Society. They’ll have a list of the species seen in your area.” I did, and downloaded a five-page, double-column, small-print list with 422 entries. Almost immediately, I spotted over 40 species.
This summer I saw a lot more. I took a field biology class at the Wenatchee Valley College. Dr. Dan Stephens, an ornithologist, and his pre-eminent former student, English professor Derek Sheffield, led our group. At first we saw the big, showy stuff, including bald eagles, ospreys, and great blue herons. Then we noticed smaller, but familiar birds, including robins, Steller’s Jays, and crows. Then we began to see birds that I would have called “LBBs” before, for “Little Brown Birds.” With some instruction, they took on genuine names and much more color. At the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, the American Dipper genuflected, then literally flew under water, propelling itself with its wings. At High Meadow Lake, the Olive-sided flycatcher gobbled his catch. At Mountain Home Road, the Western Tanager flashed its comic-book colors.
Then we began to learn the birds by their calls. Usually, that meant finding a word that emulated the rhythm of the bird’s call. For example, the black-capped chickadee says, not surprisingly, “Chickadee.” The barred owl asks, “Who cooks for you?“ The olive-sided flycatcher orders up “Three beers!”
One of my books describes the local quail as saying “Chicago!” But these are cool California quail. I’m sure they’re saying, “Van Halen! Van Halen!”
The quail are among 76 species I’ve seen by now from the Audubon list. That’s pathetically few of the 422 local or 10,000 species living worldwide — but that leaves a marvelous collection for me yet to see.
Susan Sampson writes abour the joys of being a newcomer in North Central Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.