Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Here, spotted by the cats, who drew my attention to it as it hung around on a backyard line earlier today, is the bird that began my life as a birdwatcher -- the Northern Flicker. The year was 1990. (So it's probably safe to say that this is not, in fact, the actual bird.) We had moved to Northfield with a one-year-old a few months earlier, and I was living the life of an at-home mom (one who just months before had been working as an attorney in a Milwaukee high-rise), exploring the east side of town, meeting the women who would become my new best friends while hanging out at the Central Park playground, and pushing a stroller around downtown. Along Washington Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets if I recall correctly, I saw a bird on the ground that was totally new to me, as all but the most obvious birds were at that time. It had a dark necklace and a substantial beak, a spot of red on the head and a flash of yellow in the wings.
I was intrigued enough to go almost directly to Author's Ink, the bookstore then on Division Street, to buy my first field guide so I could identify it. (I bought the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, which is not the most favored guide of more advanced birders, since it doesn't follow the typical classification system. But it is quite useful for the novice because it groups birds by general silhouette type and by ecosystem, and some may like it because it offers photographs of the birds, rather than illustrations. It still sits on my birding shelf, along with several others.) And that field guide told me that it was a Common Flicker (it is also and now probably more commonly called the Northern Flicker), and that it is the only woodpecker in North America that commonly feeds on the ground.
And I called my mother and told her about it, and she was excited because in California she was familiar with the red-shafted form and had never seen our eastern yellow-shafted flicker.
And that's when I became bird-sentient. It would be years later before I'd take up bird-watching in any more systematic way, but that's where it all began. And I'm still always excited to see a flicker -- they are handsome birds, and unmistakable once you get to know them.
Do you have a story about your "first bird"? I'd love to hear about it.
Note: From time to time, I am going to experiment with including links to Amazon.com in connection with books that I like or find occasion to comment upon. The first of these appears above. I warmly encourage anyone who is able to visit their local brick-and-mortar bookseller as a positive step toward supporting their local shopping economy. If, however, you should ever choose to buy a book from Amazon that you've found via a link from this site, I may in time see a few pennies from that sale. I thought I'd give it a try and see if anything ever comes of it.