Why am I here?
This is no ordinary delve into existentialism; I am wondering why, specifically, I am at Brier Lane.
I am exiting the car at my Christmas Bird Count turf in Lemon Heights. Ah, CBC season! Those hectic weeks centered on the holidays drain birders. We neglect sleep and personal hygiene to prowl our territories, wringing every bird out of the shrubbery. Once the rush is over, we sigh, slumber, and don’t return to our territory until the next December.
Yet here I am, walking up steep-as-hell Brier Lane on January 12. Count season is long over. I didn’t make it home for the count this year, so I just want to see what’s around…what I would have seen.
Audubon’s Warblers and House Finches skip through the knackered eucalyptus trees lining the road. “Damn butchers!” I mutter, bemoaning the excessive tree trimming that compromises the potential of my territory. Cresting the hill, I peer down to see if I can find the customary scrub-jay or mockingbird in the cactus patch. Nope! I can’t—but that’s because the whole patch is GONE, leaving a swathe of dirt that eagerly awaits the next rainfall so it can slide down and befoul the neighbor’s pool.
Good habitat is ephemeral in these neighborhoods. Shaggy yards eventually attract the ire of neighbors, to the misfortune of overwintering birds.
Why are you here? Again I ponder my motives as I watch Yellow-rumped Warblers silhouetted against the picture windows of rich people. Meanwhile, my cynicism and optimism duel. No way. It’s dead. There is NO way it is back. “Shuttup, will you? I can always hope.”
It, in this case, refers to the “Western” Flycatcher I first pished out a thicket in 2009. It subsequently returned in 2010…and 2011…and 2012…
I had started believing it would winter indefinitely. It, ten grams of fluff, would pace my annual return. You idiot, it’s just a bird. Your life expectancy is probably forty times longer. At some point, it needs to die. “But come on, not yet!”
I stop before the appointed yard and spray the jungle with an aggressive pish sequence. Within two seconds, a wide-eyed olive bird squeaks and flits to a twig six feet in front of my face. “Hah. It’s back.” Cynicism doesn’t respond.
When the bird darts back into cover, I turn and plod downhill. While I walk, I try to imagine where it nests. Breeding Pacific-slope Flycatchers have infiltrated old developments such as this one; it is possible that it never leaves. Or, if it is a Cordilleran, it might come from a Ponderosa Pine forest in Colorado. Or, even it is a Pacific-slope, maybe it travels to this unkempt backyard from a rainforest in British Columbia.
I reach the car, pause. “Good-bye…until next year.”