|Tropical Kingbird - Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico|
In examining my relationship to place I realized that I largely experience place through birds. Regardless of where I go I look to birds for clues about where I am, and look at where I am for clues to which birds I might see there. As soon as there's a window to look out of, a place to walk or sit, I look for birds. My first time visiting my sister in Indiana a couple of years ago I saw my first Yellow-shafted Flicker, a woodpecker, along a freeway on-ramp on the way to her house from the airport.
My love of birds goes back as far as I can remember. When I was maybe four years old I would stay with my grandmother at my great-grandfather's cottage on the beach in Rhode Island. My grandmother would save table scraps for the seagulls. I remember picking favorite individual gulls, especially the young brown gulls who hadn't yet molted into stunning white and grey, and asking my grandmother to be sure they were fed too.
|Ring Billed Gull - Island Park, Portsmouth, Rhode Island|
Even after we moved to Phoenix when I was eight years old I watched the birds in our front yard and remember seasonal newcomers like meadowlarks and starlings as they moved through in migration.
|Meadowlark - Elgin, Arizona|
I'll never forget one especially close encounter with a burrowing owl when I was about 18 years old. I had ridden my bicycle down West Bell Road and noticed an overgrown open desert field clearly undeveloped. I laid down my bike and started walking down an arroyo; on the opposite bank I noticed a pair of eyes watching from behind a neat mound of gravel and dirt. As I stood up straight to peer in, the eyes lowered, and as I crouched they raised to track me. I could feel a relationship develop in that moment as we expressed our mutual curiosity of one another.
|Burrowing Owl - Tucson, Arizona|
Much later, at thirty years old, my wife and children and I moved to Tucson. It wasn't long before I made friends with a couple of folks, Homer and Jen, who were really connected with the local ecology in a way I hadn't experienced before. One of the ways they expressed this connection was through bird watching. Our first outing was to the local cemetery where Vermillion Flycatchers and Say's Phoebes inspired me to pursue bird watching more avidly.
|Greater Peewee - Carr Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona|
One trip after another I experienced new habitat and enjoyed looks at birds I had never seen before. The same could be said for my own backyard where Harris and Coopers Hawks were regular visitors looking for dove and quail to eat, and Cactus Wrens abounded scavenging on our patio for food scraps abandoned by our children.
|Cactus Wren - Tucson, Arizona|
This relationship to birds developed very naturally as did the friendships that came with it. The watching of birds was never about tallying as many species as possible or checking off a list of species for a certain area, it was about really knowing birds in their chosen habitats and engaging deeply socially with the people I had as company in those places. We never called birds in with recordings or waited in massive crowds of birders for a glimpse of a rarity to an area, we just took the birds as they came, or didn't, and when they didn't come we took the time to enjoy the landscape and its other inhabitants.
|Hepatic Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak sharing a bathing spot - Carr Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona|
|Three Barn Owls - Willcox, Arizona|
|House Finch with young on nest in cholla cactus - Empire Gulch, Arizona|
|Gila Monster - Catalina State Park, Arizona|
|Kissing Bug on a Cottonwood leaf - Empire Gulch, Arizona|
|Horned Lizard - Greaterville Road, Arizona|
|Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Sweetwater Water Treatment Facility, Tucson, Arizona|
|Found fallen bird's nest at sunrise - Rucker Canyon, Chriacahua Mountains, Arizona|
|Zone-tailed Hawk kill, likely by Great Horned Owl - Empire Gulch, Arizona|
|Devil's Claw and water tank - Sonoita, Arizona|
One year on the Friday after Thanksgiving we took a long route through multiple transitional habitats in Southeastern Arizona visiting grasslands, riparian corridors, and sky islands; as we made our way over Canelo pass we stopped in our tracks to watch as over 20 Merriam's Turkeys strode casually across the road not far ahead of us. We followed at a distance and watched silently as they leapt into the low branches of the surrounding trees to roost for the afternoon while others gently foraged below.
|Merriam's Turkey - Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona|
Here are some related posts: