If you’re a regular reader and you haven’t noticed by now, I really enjoy fishing. I don’t know where that came from either, as my stepdad never went fishing to my knowledge. Cuz’n and I went a few times, notably on our Boundary Waters Wilderness camping trip, but mainly my childhood fishing was primarily with my best friend Jerry, usually escorted by his Cherokee brother-in-law.

My stepdad loved to hunt birds though. We hunted pheasants mainly, but after I left, he and Cuz’n hunted geese and ducks. Dad loved to hunt waterfowl, but we never went out together. I always thought it was because since most of that Platte River country was private property and given over to expensive private leases and leased to outfitters, the pastime was just too expensive. As far as fishing goes, I never saw his hand on a rod or heard him even mention it, even though Uncle Milt and Cuz’n went out often. Or so it seemed.

Regardless, Sandi and I went fishing about mid-May up in Crandall country on a day when the water, although running fast, was clear. We were just out for a ride, but the temptation to check out angling conditions overcame me and we stopped by a favorite spot of mine. Although the conditions weren’t optimal and I’d foresworn going into the canyon again, I was seduced by the song of the water.

The canyon was still littered with last year’s detritus from the high water, signifying that the melt had not yet began for this year. New high water will completely rearrange the log litter along the watercourse and adjacent banks. After roping down and clambering over some dead driftwood, I found a dry place to sit and enjoyed a couple quiet hours of fishing, contemplation and relaxation.

No music from the radio, no traffic noise, no conversation, just the light caress of the breeze on my cheek and the singing rush of the water as it raced past my little hidey-hole. A pair of American dippers decided to join me for several minutes, before I convinced them that they should be fishing elsewhere. Sandi sat in the truck with her magazine and revolver and enjoyed watching a small herd of deer as they moved out of the woods and fed alongside the truck.

It was chilly down there where the sun seldom shines, but the effort was worth it. In a couple of hours I netted a baker’s dozen of small- to pan-sized cutthroats and one bigger volunteer. I kept a 9-incher and a tenner for dinner and the bigger 15-inch cuttbow hybrid. She came out of the middle of the stream, right from the bottom of a hole with the fastest water rushing by over it. Interestingly, she had a fresh bite mark, as in suffered while I was fighting her out of the pool, in the middle of her back. To get it’s mouth across her back and leave a complete mouth print, that had to be one big dude attacking her. A not inauspicious start for a weird year so far.

Otherwise, voluntary isolation has yielded a bunch of new sightings at the bird baths and the feeder. Our normal quota of Cassin’s finches has grown to a couple dozen. Several, I’m certain, are the normal by-products of this year’s bird lust. But there are some strange ones showing up too.

Like the three or four little guys that look just like a Cassin’s finch hen, except their wings are streaked with yellow. Instead of a smattering of white streaking, these birds have a bold yellow – striking and very pretty. Then we have a smaller finch, probably this years hatch, that has a raw looking, bald patch behind the left eye. Probably where she’d been pecked by a sibling while still in the nest.

Yet another oddity has cropped up on the Cassin’s finches. While the males sport a distinctive red crest on their heads, the hens mostly have a light brown head with three or four thin lines of white running front to back. Except I’ve got a couple of hens with yellow lines where the regular girls have white lines on their heads. My immediate suspicion is that, lacking that these oddities aren’t a separate breed, somehow a gold finch snuck into the wood pile as we used to say.

There’s also a real tiny, hummingbird-sized player that has a dark, skinny beak and almost buff-colored under-parts, but looks like a tiny Cassin’s hen otherwise. Possibly a wren of some type? I guess it could be a standard house wren that moved into the neighborhood.

The dark-eyed juncos seemed to have left, disappearing right after Sandi cleaned up the leaf litter crunched in along the bottom of the fence. I’ve even seen what I think are a pair of fox sparrows cavorting in the bushes and we have an allotment of white-crowned sparrows easily identified by the three white stripes across their heads. Then there’s the cat bird that just showed up one day and now comes back every day. Or at least I think that’s what it is. It’s the only plate in my book that looks like it. But that’s not the most unusual bird this year.

The other day I was enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperatures while reading a magazine, and a total newbie showed up. It was some variety of grosbeak, but I can’t find anything like it in my books. We’ve had evening grosbeaks around, off and on, for the last couple of years, but I know what they look like. This dude was standard size, about like a robin, but colored completely black around the head, neck and shoulders with a light-yellow beak. The feathers on its wings and lower back were in a sort of pinto type of arrangement of snow white patches, interspersed with similar sized patches of dark black. This bird had a totally white underbelly and, amazingly to me, a half-dollar sized bright red, heart-shaped patch on the neck right where it joins the brisket. It stuck around for about ten minutes and then was gone. Haven’t seen it since.

Even with the TV and such, I’d rather sit outside sipping coffee and watch the birds coming and going, fighting and arguing and even romancing each other. They’re family. And like the rest of my family, they’re definitely not boring.

(1) comment

Daves Warm Nuts

Good sighting, a fair bit long winded, but it is you editorial. The bird you saw was most likely a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Related to the Evening Grosbeak, that you already mentioned, as well as the Black Headed Grosbeak, fairly common out here. Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are an Eastern bird, but like the White tailed Deer, are expanding their existence Westward. At this time I feel that bird expansion is better than the ungulate expansion. You may want to check my math though, with "The Bird Lady" Susan Ahole

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