The rapping of a ‘shave and a haircut’ knock on my bedroom door ended my late morning slumber. I knew its source and I knew its intent. It was meant as a call to action, a reveille, the bugle call at sunrise. Wake up it’s the first day of a very Big Year!
I cracked a window blind, preparing a reply to the request for departure I was sure to hear. The pane felt cold. Tiny water droplets rolled down the outside of the glass. Fog lingered in the creek bed at the other side of the cul-de-sac. I expected it wouldn’t be the best weather for spotting birds, freezing rain had been the overnight forecast, so seeing the fog was a welcomed relief. For birders, cold drizzle isn’t the ‘end all’ and light rain is like ‘water off a ducks back’.
Mimic stood ready on the other side of the door, binocular around his neck and fully outfitted for his birding adventure. “Come on, Beaker. Hurry! I’ve already seen two birds out my window.”
The flock of Great-tailed Grackle appeared as flakes of pepper huddling atop the furthest telephone pole in sight. “There’s a dove out there too.”
“Really?” I replied, readying my binocular.
“I’m not sure what kind though. At this distance it’s too hard to tell. Could be a Mourning Dove, could be a Common Ground Dove, I really don’t know.”
“I’ll be right back,” I said. “I’m going to get my camera.” Still a bit groggy, I wasn’t sure I would know the difference if the birds were two feet away. Always ready to provide the identifications and helpful facts, I was glad to have Mimic at my side.
Snowfeather had joined Mimic when I returned. Quiet as usual, she didn’t say a word. Mimic introduced her to the birds, as I prepared my telephoto lens. Birds are his passion and he was ready to throw on his coat and go chasing after these ‘new’ but often seen birds. Snowfeather and I weren’t quite so anxious and Hawkeye had yet to emerge from her nice, warm nest. So for now, we’d wait for the birds to come to us.
After a minute or two, the three of us made our way downstairs. Wishing a fine-feathered-friend would fly in for a closer view, we scouted the backyard. A moment later Snowfeather spoke. “There,” she said.
“Where?” asked Mimic.
“There on the cliffs.”
Terraced limestone walls stretch across the backyards of our community. They’re only about twelve feet high, but we call them ‘the cliffs’. The bird was in our neighbor’s yard on the second step of the cliff, pecking the ground for insects. A bug breakfast, no doubt. Mimic and I raced upstairs!
The window on the landing faced the neighbor’s yard and it would be the perfect viewing spot. There, halfway up the stairs, we sighted and clearly identified the first bird we’d count. It wasn’t a rarity perched on a tree or a majestic bird of prey soaring the sky high above. The first bird of our big year was a simple bird; small, peaceful and unassuming. Watching this little guy I was reminded of the small birds mentioned in the Bible, birds often overlooked by humans, but birds having great value in the eyes of God.
The Common Ground Dove may sound like a creature that might be considered insignificant, but not for us. To my family and I, this grayish-brown bird with small black spots on its wings was the best bird to begin our Big Year. Like the many birds that were sure to follow, seeing this bird was a priceless gift from the maker of heaven and earth.