The Great Migration Outside My Window

by Kristine Mietzner

Eyelids closed, I postpone viewing the new day. I linger in dreamtime until a familiar honking breaks the morning stillness in Benicia, California, a waterside community thirty miles north of San Francisco. The world outside my window rests under the great Pacific flyway, the north-south path of North American migratory birds. 

Eyes wide open; I peer through the bedroom window in time to see Canada geese, a trio in flight, noisily bound elsewhere, calling to one another, beaks pointed, necks stretched; chests lifted upward, wings flapping hard. I track their flight over Southampton Bay, the cove on Benicia’s west end. The pale gray clouds of the marine layer blanket the opposite shore of the Carquinez Strait. This wide watery ribbon funnels fully half of California’s water drainage through a deep channel on its way to the Pacific Ocean.   

Cuddling under a soft, embroidered, cotton quilt, while I marvel at the waterfowl, Franz Kafka’s translated words come to mind.  

You do not need to leave your room.

Remain sitting at your table and listen.

Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, and solitary.

The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, 

it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

The universe blesses Benicia with a significant year-round presence of waterfowl—mallards, coots, the great blue heron, and snowy egret. Spring brings an upswing in activity: nesting and the annual migration of some birds to points north. 

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The Bosque Is For The Birds

words + photos by Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde

 

“Maybe I will go to the car and get my tripod,” I said to my husband.  We were at the edge of a mostly frozen pond, standing on snowpack, bundled up against the 19 degree cold in the pre-dawn dark.  A glimmer of light was starting to show in the sky.  We had staked out a spot in the line of tripod-wielding photographers with their mega-humongous lenses  We were all waiting for the awakening snow geese and sandhill cranes to perform their morning “fly out.”  We were at Bosque del Apache, a National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, New Mexico about an hour south of Albuquerque.  It’s a place known to many serious bird watchers who throng to the area in the winter to watch thousands and thousands -- and thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes come and go.

We are not avid birders, nor am I a zealous photographer.  How could I be?  I love taking pictures and dabble in PhotoShop, but I tote a point-and-shoot camera.  It’s top of the line and somewhat flexible, but it’s still a point-and-shoot, and the SLR crowd look at me with some disdain.  Much as I would love to use a digital SLR and be able to change lenses, my body just can’t schlepp that much weight.  And my husband, despite my batting my eyelids at him, has turned me down flat.  It was hard not to be intimidated by the very serious looking phalanx of expensive equipment lined up on tripods waiting for “the moment.”

Our home is now in Santa Fe, so we made the easy two plus hour drive to the Bosque (means “forest” in Spanish) the night before, aiming to get there in late afternoon in hopes of seeing the “fly in.”  This is the time during the golden hour before the sun sets and the moments after sunset when tens of thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes fly in.  A foot of snow had closed the refuge a couple of days before, but the plows had sort of cleared the roads.  The observation decks were still snow covered.  The big problem was that there were limited areas of open, unfrozen water in the ponds, and the birds want to land on open water where they are safer from predators.  The helpful folks at the visitors’ center can tell you where the birds landed the night before, but the birds don’t file a flight plan, so we can only guess where they might land tonight.

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Peru: A feather for any birder’s life list

by Rachel Dickinson

You might characterize me as a casual birder, which is one-step up from an armchair birder. I am married to a man who once headed the Sapsucker team for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the World Series of Birding so just through sheer osmosis I should be a much better birder than I am. But that would mean I’d have to pay attention.

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