There’s a very special bird visiting Helena right now. While common in much of the US, Mexico and Central America the green heron is a rare visitor to this part of the country. This is the same species (or not) of bird found in the Galapagos Islands. Out on the remote islands it can be seen in two distinct plumages and is called the lava heron or striated heron or green heron. Depending on your predilection. Burt and I saw many many many green herons on our two trips to the Galapagos. Today we will not discuss if we should lump or split this lovely bird and it’s kith and kin. We shall marvel at the fact that this individual said, “I’m gonna check out a new place.” My ebird research reveals the closest record was from 2016 up in Cascade.
How we found this bird is a testament to doing science every day and the motto of “every bird counts, count every bird.” The book Lab Girl certainly has been on my mind as I consider all the work volunteers around the world are doing to count birds. Almost every list is mundane. Robins, house finches, starlings, Eurasian collared doves…blah bland blah. But the science is found in the mundane. Data is boring but must be collected so we can see the meaning in the big picture. Each individuals list is meaningless but together something is learned. Our lone green heron is a blip. He’s meaningless to science but he’s a juicy reward for us.
Burt and I had both had long busy days. He worked on the remodel job. I walked 4 1/2 miles to town and then spent two more hours cleaning an older friend’s home. At lunchtime Burt and I met for Bridge. The unit game started with a free lunch and a commotion. The director and her minions were out of sorts. There was yelling, a kerfuffle over the wrong movement. Boards were seen by the wrong people. More yelling. I kept my head down and mouth shut but I was rattled. Then I had a long sequence of missed heartbeats or palpatations. I became confused and couldn’t remember what I was doing and ruined a couple of hands from complete brain fog. My mood was dour and my head and chest ached. Burt wanted to leave. I told him I’d rather die playing Bridge than go through another endless round of tests in the ER. He let me stay. It is clear that emotional stress with a mix of physical exhaustion is my main trigger. With my new meds just getting underway I want to just wait a bit before heading to the doctor again. Bridge wrapped up with us not in last place. That is the best we can hope for on a good day. Considering I couldn’t remember if aces were out in any suit of any hand it was a great day.
Afterwards we had an hour and a half to pass before meeting friends for an early birthday celebration. I suggested we take the dogs to the new Ten Mile Creek Park. Elvis and Olive could enjoy the new off-leash area and we could see some birdies. And that’s how we came to spot a rare visitor in the jungles of Helena. Burt said, “I see some kind of heron over there.” I peeked and thought, “It seems very familiar. It reminds me of the striated heron in the Galapagos.” Well, that’s because it was the same species of bird (if you’re a lumper). A quick look in iBirdPro revealed that we had found a green heron in an unusual location. What an improvement over bridge. Calm brain on a gentle walk. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders again.
Here’s a fact about the green heron that I should have known but didn’t: Green herons are tool users. They use bits of leaves or bread or other fishies to lure in fish to eat. They are bait fishermen. No wonder we like them.
Yesterday Burt and I saw a new dentist and a new dermatologist. We needed regular checkups. Even though we are insured in the US it is cheaper and easier to schedule these things here in Mexico. On the downside teeth cleaning is not as rigorous or vigorous. If you read teeth cleaning research you might conclude it’s all overblown anyway. There are some scientists that say teeth cleaning (at least the frequency) is unproven as a preventative to gum disease. After poking around and spending about 15 minutes polishing my teeth the new dentist announce two of my crowns needed to be replaced. No x-rays, no inquiry about the history of these two crowns. I politely asked if I could wait until next season. We’re running low on time and cash and I wanted time to ask my dentist in the US if he thought it was time to replace them, too. At first the dentist was willing to wait. These crowns are 25 years old and have been a literal and figurative sore spot for most of those years. I work very diligently to keep the area free of food. My dentist (and several I’ve seen along the way) always took a wait and see approach. Many of the dentists and hygienists have commented that it’s the finest crown they’ve ever seen. Great crown in a bad situation. We got a quarter of a century with the wait and see attitude. I wanted time to consult and see if there were changes that dictated removal. I tried to make it clear that I didn’t doubt the dentist. We were speaking easily in English and Spanish. Sadly the dentist took umbrage. She became more rigid and tried to scare me when I reiterated that I would come back next season for her to take another look. I smiled, shrugged, and left.
Now I have to see another dentist. I’m going to make an appointment in the US with the clinic that installed this masterpiece of dentition. Maybe it is time. Maybe the dentist saw some scary changes. Too bad she felt the need to try and coerce me with fear rather than explain and listen. This could have happened anywhere.
Burt and I both loved the dermatologist. She took a lit magnifying glass to every dark spot on my skin. It was a long process. She declared them all fine for now. Then she suggested a minor tune up of my face. For $5 a piece she removed three funny skin changes on my face (clogged glands). Afterwards she declared Burt has perfect skin despite his utter failure to apply sunscreen. This could only happen in Mexico. We’ll be seeing her next year.
In between the dentist and the dermatologist we visited Baja California Sur’s second most prolific bird spot: The La Paz sewage treatment lagoons. Burt and I have a running joke about all the shit holes he takes me to visit. Usually they are fun places but ugly. I finally beat him at his own game. I took him to an actual shit hole. We saw many amazing birds including four new species. If we’d had time to sit we’d have seen even more. There were scads little birds flitting in the green bushes that we couldn’t quite get an eyeball on. We’ll be back here, too.
Sunday morning walk with our neighborhood acrophobic was nearly cut short. Burt and I had forgotten our friend was afraid of high, cliffy spaces and nearly ruined his day. Burt and he turned around for a safe beach walk and I went up the hill with Olive. The TuVus came to say hello to us. Olive reeks of fetid mud so maybe they wanted to make sure we weren’t dead.I’m still a few checklists away from 15 with photos so I grabbed these shots for the eBird competition.
I think the birds are starting to talk to me. Yesterday a roadrunner met me in the exact same spot he met me last week. Yesterady, as I walked along the edge of a dry playa I pish pish pished to see who was in scrub. Pishing causes some birds to move about and lets you see where they are. A roadrunner leapt up and landed on a solitary cardon cactus and sang to me. There was a roardrunner on this very same cactus a week ago. I’d never heard a roadrunner speak before yesterday. Immediately I knew why the roadrunner is in the cuckoo family. We made a date for next Saturday.
I am continuing on with my attempts to win high end binoculars from eBird.org by entering their monthly birding challenges. In the name of citizen science eBird has a challenge every month and also for the. This year’s contest requires at least one complete bird list for every day of the year. I don’t have to bird every day but I have to submit at least 365 lists during the year. I am at well over 100 and it’s only March so that shouldn’t be a problem. There’s also a drawing for binoculars for people that complete every monthly challenge of the year. And there’s a pair of binoculars given away every month for the monthly contest. Last month’s contest was easy shmeezy. The contest was designed to get people birding and reporting to eBird so I had to share at least 15 checklists. Burt was my main companion and recipient of the shared checklists. Even with both of us completing the challenge we still did not win.
This month’s contest is a real pain. I have to submit at least 15 checklists with media attached. That means I have to include photos or sound recordings of the actual birds on that day’s list. Not all the birds but at least one from the list. No historic photos allowed. That day, that list. Since I usually bird by phone using the eBird app I considered just submitting a bunch of terrible phone shots of birds in shrubs and palm trees. You have to rate your photos so I would just rate them all poor. But then I started thinking it would be my kind of luck to win the drawing with a bunch of shoddy photos. How embarrassing would that be? Fuzzy photos of feathery blobs from too far away. I couldn’t do it. Instead I’m birding from bed. It’s a lot easier than heading out with phone, binoculars, and camera with telephoto lens.
Our feeding station is just outside our window. I can sit in bed and make a list and take some photos without breaking a sweat or dropping my tools. If I win I’m still going to be embarrassed but at least my pictures are pretty good quality. Today a turkey vulture (feeling sorry for me) flew by in the little triangle of sky I can see. The bird on bird action has been hot and heavy these last few days. Longer light and warmer weather have cued up the hormones of desire and the doves are jumping each other. They are so quick I can’t get a picture.That’s kind of embarrassing for them and me.
Yesterday I tried to buy bird food but our local tienda only had chicken scratch. It’s not very popular with the birds. They spend a lot of time kicking it out of the feeders looking for their favorite morsels. I could be in trouble.
March is more than half over and I have about 8 more new spots I have to visit to get enough bird checklists into eBird for the binocular contest. eBird, an online, international bird census group, gives away a free pair of binoculars every month. All you have to do is complete the monthly assignment and you are entered into the drawing. I’m not sure I can get the job done. My driver and co-spotter is down with ‘la gripa’. Burt blames the singing kids (notorious disease vectors) for laying him low. It’s a bummer to see him finally succumb after his defenses protected him when I was sick.
Biridng, like everything, is easier the more you do it. These first forays on our own are a little bit intimidating. There are so many birds that are difficult to identify. Here in our own yard I have been plagued by a sprightly yellow bird that flits in and out of our aloe. At first I thought it was a yellow warbler, then I thought maybe a female common yellow throat. The more I looked and the more I birded the more I realized I wasn’t quite right. But the darn thing kept flitting by. I never got a solid look. Yesterday while I was stalking some fantastic male mating displays by the local cactus wrens the unknown small yellowish thing came into view. I missed the shots of the cactus wrens showing off but finally got some of the yellow bird. I blew up my pictures and lamented. WTH is this innocuous yellow thing? I was ready to call it a canary. Before I burst into tears I remembered the internet. Lots of opinions out there in Facebook and I have some very skilled birding friends. Why not ask them?
Within minutes of tagging my friends on the photo a local helpful type responded with: It might be a warbler, or a pine siskin,or a sparrow. This is why people run from the internet screaming. What can you do when a cheery but ill informed somebody suggests three totally unrelated and not nearly specific enough ideas. Two of which are just flat out impossible. Warbler was correct but there’s only twenty or more yellowish warblers in North America. I tried to say thank you but managed to not be as nice as I could have been. This person was trying to help but in way over their heads. And since they paired it with sparrow and pine siskin I’m guessing they just got lucky. And further proves I am not as nice a person as I wish I was.
Lucky for me other people with more knowledge than me felt sympathy and weighed in rapidly with the correct ID. It was unanimous that we had an orange crowned warbler. This particular bird was in my thoughts but since I never saw an orange crown I kept ruling it out. It took more experienced people to assure me that the orange crown is rarely seen. I was assured it’s a hard ID to make unless you know what to look for. The bright yellow under the tail end is what distinguishes this bird from its lookalike cousins. I’m feeling better about the struggle and realize that the fight to learn is what makes something memorable. Just like those balls I hit into the net in tennis or the bad bids Burt is going to make in Bridge. The struggle is the process.