Last but not(?) Least Bittern

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)
 

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17 thoughts on “Last but not(?) Least Bittern

  1. jsolberg

    @chromepoet – I’m realizing that Audubon’s illustrations all seem to have a ‘mood’, a perhaps un-intended side-message. Or maybe I’m just projecting. The least bittern as Napoleon, stretching up to her full 21 centimeter height and filing for a name-change at the Smithsonian.Thanks for stopping by for a worm, ha/ JS

    Reply
  2. rubys_garden

    You are so clever with language…the aud…intro, but so clever with everything else. Here I’ve got one for you, birdwise…showed up on my creek threes years ago, normally we only have mallards here, but that March I was intrigued to watch ducks I had never seen before. I looked them up in my Petersons and my Audubon and they are Common mergansers, notable for surface diving to look for their prey, and now I have to wonder if they will push out the mallards and take over , but according to the bird books they are migrating—but as we all know that could easily change.So you chose farming and your other businesses over teaming up with Will Shortz to create mindbending crossword puzzles! But then I would hate your cleverness, always waiting for the next week’s paper to show me the answers and my failures and my need to change the way I think! No I would never hate your cleverness, rather my ignorance..Your writing at times would be great for Saturday Night Live: you have a great verbal/intelligent talent. Your talents have revealed to me my own weakness but I don’tknow what to call it …lack of talent…lack of the gift of talent…I accept that but I will always write when I am inspired.My condolences, rather late, on your father’s death.

    Reply
  3. dirtbubble

    Fictitious portions or not, I trust the veracity of your report. I myself have witnessed giant owls, kingfishers, cranes and some larger aquatic fowl where they shouldn’t be. Most recently I listened to radio story about flamingos in Siberia. And Canadian geese, of course, should not be in Colorado – or at least we hate to see them here. All of this I believe must be attributed to this ability that birds have to fly.

    Reply
  4. jsolberg

    @rubys_garden – Sweet to read your thoughtful compliments; thank you *blushes*. I seem to have undergone a land-based sea-change, and spend most of my free hours in the soil. Let’s hope your mergansers merganse their way back ‘outa there’ when their tour-group bus re-appears in the parking lot. “Common” is another almost-pejorative label given to species, one which feels like it was intended to put them in their place, ha. They probably call us, under their breath “Common Naked Ape”I do love writing, and kinda forgot the thrill of appreciative readers. Have an optimistic weekend.

    Reply
  5. jsolberg

    @dirtbubble – Your comment made me think a second about the extent to which the whole puiece is true, in the sense that it does reflect my experiences in front of various beauracracies. Naming a bird is a serious thing. I picture least Bitterns at night reading their entry in Wik “A small diminuitive bird native to the Lesser Antilles, blah blah..” and feeling slighted somehow. I’ll try to catch one on film and use MS-Paint ‘stretch’ function. Happy birding, guy

    Reply
  6. MelFamy

    This post is, at the very least, better’n most that I have read lately. Actually, it was laugh-out-loud funny, and I did, actually.When Yoni starts mulching loam again, hurrah, hurrah….

    Reply
  7. Roadkill_Spatula

    Possibly it was the List Bittern, also known as the shopping bird; or perhaps the Liszt Bittern, whose trill is a veritable symphonic poem. Or then again, it could be the Least Bitten, the nerd bird Transylvania. Maybe even a rare example of Frau Blücher’s “List, Bitte”, but I rather hope not.

    Reply
  8. jsolberg

    @Roadkill_Spatula – surprisingly, I’m not in the least bitter over the least bittern fiasco. I blame only myself for not having the presence of mind, in extremis, to think of the alternatives you mention, any one of which might have put that proud feather in my cap. C’est la vie

    Reply
  9. jsolberg

    @MelFamy – Thanks for the encouragement. My new plan is to somehow put salt on its tail, or tale, or whatever. Or repeatedly watch the Roadrunner tutorials; therein was a fellow with a similar challenge

    Reply
  10. momofjenmatt

    for some reason the font is super small and I have not gotten much needed ( for over a year now) glasses. I can’t read it at all. I promise to be back with glasses on eyes.

    Reply
  11. jsolberg

    @momofjenmatt – You’re not the first to mention small font. oddly, I see it as just fine, albeit with cheap reading glasses. Still, I’ll enlarge the letters on my next post, even though I often feel the content doesn’t. like, deserve BOLD-face, ha.I buy glasses at CVS in the States. 2.0, they cost $20 and I leave the store feeling 60 years old, not a day less. Thanks for stopping by/ JS

    Reply
  12. gnostic1

    Another excellent read. Thanks. As always, your intelligent commenters add to the fun. I mostly get visited by loons. Perhaps those last two sentences should have been in separate paragraphs.

    Reply
  13. jsolberg

    @gnostic1 – Thanks for your always-intriguing comments. When I debate my current scarcity here, I list you prominently in the column of supportive intellects to whom I am indebted. Let’s all pray for that Spring which renews life as we knew it, even unto Red Deer.

    Reply

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