Monday, May 10, 2010

Butorides virescens

Adventures with a Texas Naturalist begins with a story about a nurse in a home for the elderly who contacted Bedichek to assist one of the residents. The man had not slept in weeks. Bedi obliged and showed up one day and the man, who had suffered a stroke, struggled to imitate the call of a bird he had been hearing but could not identify. He finally scrawled on a piece of paper, to come back tomorrow, "if quiet and still." And it was, and Bedi returned and sat for a while and listened. Before long it came. He wrote down on the paper, "Inca dove." And the man sat back and relaxed and soon fell asleep.

So it was that I found myself equally perplexed, and Bedi gone. I heard the bird one morning as I sat out on the back deck with the morning coffee, watching the wind stir the trees. It came from the boughs of a large hackberry, and I stood beneath and listened, but only caught a glimpse of the bird, somewhat smaller than a hawk, taking flight to the south.

The next day I heard it again, this time in the neighbor's magnolia. There was a responding call a street or so away, and I was vexed. All I could associate with this new call was possibly hearing it near the water. We live about a half a mile as the crow flies from Barton Creek, but I'd never seen wetland species this far. It's odd that the sound of an unfamiliar bird can feel so unsettling. I remember when I first moved to Austin, hearing the screech owls at night and imagining it must be some type of a loon. Birds resist and elude our imaginations.

Mother's Day I sat down at the computer and went through Cornell's Ornithology site and listened to the sounds of dozens of birds. When I arrived at the call, the world seemed to align itself. I felt like the man in Bedichek's story, slumping into the restful peace of having placed a sound, a leaf, a creature of any kind alongside its name.