We look for exotic birds. Birds rare to our eyes. Drive miles to see pelicans. Use binoculars and telephoto lenses to catch just one. A tiny white dot on the lake, with just enough of an orange bill to say “Yes, Pelican.” Back here in the yard, juvenile robins entertain with awkward antics in the gooseberry growing next to the schoolhouse. We un-wittingly flush them out when walking past or opening the front door. They bluster and fly around, but always return. And if we are very still, they stand on the sidewalk and preen. First under one wing and then the other. They crane to clean their back and if a wind comes up, their young feathers ruffle and lift, letting the light come through their youthful spots.
We have spent more time with bird books than with birds. Every author’s photo or drawing slightly different and none exactly like what we see. And yet, here in the cottonwood, not 10 yards from where I sit, so close I crane my neck like a preening robin to see the top branches from around the brim of my hat, three or more distinct bird songs come from the throats of birds camouflaged in the leaves. If I listened long enough I might know them without identifying-names attached.
Two cranes flew in, under a blue sky scattered with a few strips of clouds. Their landing like an aircraft, broad wings leveling to the ground, but without the bump of wheels touching. Two others in the field already foraging, don’t look up when this pair raise their necks to full length, and open their throats, beaks to the sky. Trumpets, but a staccato, croaking trumpet. They announce their presence in unison. And then, as one, they lower their heads and walk, pushing the other pair in front of them to the irrigation ditch. The cranes stride reminds me of camels… as if I had ever seen a camel… head jutting forward, long thin legs following. All four birds cross the ditch. One pair nudged by the other. Once crossed the pair that has landed and pushed the other pair out of the field, stop and call in unison again. A triumphant duet. They are answered from a distance by a third pair. Advance, retreat, claim and acquiesce while I watch from the porch. Debra Magpie Earling called it encroachment and displacement. It is familiar.