An audible hush swept the audience last night during my audition before the Israeli Audubon Club.
“What an audacious audit!” cackled a blue-haired dowager in the front row; a stage-whisper I was obviously intended to hear.
I was there to claim my reward for having 20 confirmed bird-sightings. Ok, the little card I hoped to be awarded calls me a ‘Pullet‘, and carries with it only Junior-sized rights: fruit cup at the monthly get-togethers, but damn; I felt as if I were defending a doctoral thesis before hard-hearted ornithological scavengers. peckers-out of
the eyes of would-be newbies.
And all this over Bird 20, the Least Bittern.
When my father died a few years ago I was asked to make a round of the farmhouse and select anything I felt like preserving for the continuing generation. Somehow I wasn’t in the mood for momentos, and I made-do with an old butter-churn and, principally, the ten-pound ‘Birds of America’ which had made my youth tolerable, with its awesome illustrations and text.
I distinctly recall, 55 years ago (when I was at, in retrospect, at the he zenith of my intellectual prowess), gazing at the drawing of a ‘Least Bittern’, and wondering about the odd choice of name.
And now verily, 55 years later, with only my memory to inform me, I saw one!
No, there were four of them, scrounging for.. whatever, in the newly-disc-ed field to the west of my gardens. Binoculars told me all I needed to know. Of course by the time I grabbed my camera they were gone. Still, having put Bird 20 solidly under my wing, I ran, not walked, to the phone to schedule the above-mentioned parlez-vous with the Aviary Authorities.
Looking back, I do recall the mounting tension in the hall as I approached the critical 20-bird threshold. Rattling off at first the low-hanging fruit (‘Or-ev ha mat’zui’ “Common crow”, then on to ‘Parkinson’s Parrot’, a well-known invasive here, released inadvertently twenty years ago by some dull knife-in-the-drawer from Paressiya, the common Sparrow (I call him Spiro, and he almost eats out of my hand by now)… I continued, to the bored looks of the assembled crowd, who arose from their diffidence only as I approached Mecca.
“And Bird Twenty” I said breathlessly is the…um… the Least Bittern.”.
That’s when Hell opened its Gates, approximately.
In hindsight, no one could have prepared me for the vehemence of the naysayers:
“Yer Momma’s a Least Bittern!” This from the normally staid dean of the Charles Parker Wildlife Refuge, seated near the rear of the hall.
The chief judge, seated at the elevated table before me, hands tied by the need to maintain his lofty but fragile status with the donors, diplomatically suggested that perhaps, innocently, I had in fact seen a ‘Leased Bittern’.
“Leased Bittern?” I asked, puzzled.
“Yes, there have been incidents in the past where well-intentioned applicants have scurrilously rented birds for-hire, in a deluded effort to rank higher in the bird-watching pecking order.”
Un-convinced, I challenged him, spreading the lapels of my cheap found-on-sidewalk suit-jacket to reveal the full thread-bare horror of my meagre attire.
“Do I look like a guy with mega-shekels to blow on rent-a-pigeon dot com?”
“Then maybe a ‘Released Bittern?” he persisted. “A pitiable fowl who, instead of joining its cohorts in the great outdoors happened to blunder onto your land. The Bylaws of course disallow specimens of his genre in the counting.”
The transition from confident amateur bird-fancier to distraught prey of this covey of vituperative vultures was not an easy one for me. My armpits smelled more like carrion by the minute. ‘Blue-hair’, my ornitho-nazi nemesis was demonstratively packing her phone, her black-book, and various preening tools into her pouch; a smug look on
her beak. Frantically, I mentally rang the changes in my mind; ‘Lost Bittern’? Nah. ‘Liced’ or ‘Loused’? Ferget a bout it; I’m sure they have some goddamn bylaw against birds-cum parasites. ‘Lust Bittern’? That would indeed be a stretch even had I been in my prime. I pictured my sad-sack self trying to break new zoological ground depicting, in profuse detail, the prurient habits of an as-yet un-cataloged species, whose sex life was the feathered rival of the Bonobo. ‘Doin’ it’ around the clock, yer honor’, I’d sum it up. Blue-Hair would silently wet herself yet feign frigidity.
In the End, tail between my legs, I opted for an exit-with honour. The all-male jury precluded my usual appeal to rescue by a women blessed with the milk of human kindness.
“Your Honour, the bird-in-dispute did in fact alight on my grounds, and, at the very least, I was at the very Least Bittern’s arrival party, watching responsibly as she filled her gullet with worms. I shall, however, defer to your decision, and return at some later date with a less controversial bird.”
The judge looked bored as he banged the gavel, an elaborately-carved
mahagony dodo’s-head My jalopy ’87 Ford Fiesta’s roof had a new accretion of bird poop when I made it to the rutted parking lot. I wasted valuable minutes assessing whether the guano was sign from heaven or, coversely, Hell, before it hit me:
“Fuck! Pigeon-shit! I coulda used pigeon for my goddamn Bird 20!” Jeezuz, I’m dense. What hubris, to think that I oughta been an Audubon.”
Note: The above story is all-too true, except for the part about the, well, the Committee. I do have 19 confirmed (by me) species of birds, with a ‘new-one’ almost daily, thanks to blessed spring. I know, you’ll believe me only after I upload pictures of each specimen.
For the record, here is a classic Least Bittern. Yup, that’s the bird I saw, and I still say it moves. (*Galileo)