The Twitcher’s Apprentice

thanksgiving guestCai carefully notes all the distinguishing field marks of this vagrant Orange-eyed Squash Goose before rushing to identify it in the guidebook.

Learning to birdwatch with Cai has been a bit of a learning curve. One thing I learned, for example, was the impossibility of simultaneously peering through binoculars and grasping the loop of a puppy-filled leash. I did manage to overcome this problem by slipping the loop around the toe of my boot. This method works best when viewing the more phlegmatic of our feathered friends; it is of no help at all for that large group of avians that I call gone-birds.

Because e.g. and I have compatible but different interests, the two of us can share Cai between us. I’ll do birdless walkies with him while e.g. sets up her tripod for skunk cabbage or bloodroot or trout lily or whatever the fleur du jour is, and then she’ll take him while I go stalk the pond or the meadow or the woods for a while.

One of the reasons e.g. and I decided on a Cardigan Welsh Corgi is that they are sturdy little animals, happy to go hiking or camping. Cai was first put to the tenting test last summer, when he wasn’t yet a year old. It was a bit of a challenge for him. Every evening while it was still light out, he would start scratching at the zipper of either Jack’s or our tent, announcing his intention to turn in. He ended each day exhausted from the sniffing and the seeing and the listening and the hiking and the swimming, but I like to think he went to bed with a smile on his muzzle.

On this particular camping trip, we were at a privately-owned campground on Manitoulin Island. Early each morning, I would take Cai for walkies while e.g. and Jack were still nestled in their sleeping bags. One morning, a family of deer startled my dog and me, and we them; they leapt across the path just ahead of us and disappeared into the woods. I thought that was pretty cool, but Cai, who had never seen deer before, didn’t know what to think. He pulled the leash taut and stood stock-still, staring after them; and I felt his heartbeat through the leash.

On another morning, having familiarized myself with the trails, I decided to risk dropping the leash in an open area and let Cai walk beside me. He did, very nicely, until we both suddenly saw — or I thought we saw — the same thing. It was a pair of Sharp-tailed Grouse at the foot of a tree. I reached for the leash loop that was dragging in the dust, but all I found was a gone-dog. Cai sprinted to the tree and up scattered a whole covey of Sharp-tails. Then he trotted back to me, wagging with pleasure at his success as the birder’s apprentice.

I was reminded of all these things this morning, as I played ball with Cai in the field next to our apartment building. Sometimes it’s just the fact of his being a dog that makes Cai help me with my birdwatching. Today was a cat kind of day — stay indoors and watch the rain — but dogs don’t do litter boxes, so out we went. Up the field, down the field, facing north, facing south, I stooped for the ball as we were facing north, raised my arm, and halted in awe to watch a small flock of Sandhill Cranes, grey as the mist they were flying through, silently heading for Manitoulin Island.

5 Responses to The Twitcher’s Apprentice

  1. eyegillian says:

    Aw… that’s such a beautiful story! What a wonderful birding companion Cai is turning out to be. And I love how you saw the Cranes in the rain with a dog in the park and a ball in your hand (and the green grass growing all around…).

  2. livingisdetail says:

    And a a good apprentice he is too. I like the surprised way he is looking at that squash – that HUGE squash. He is probably thinking what an interesting place he lives in. You never know what fantastic creatures will land at your doorstep.

    Lovely post about your walks with Cai and the wildlife you encounter. I will have to get my partner to take up bird watching so that he has something to do when I am taking photos.

  3. lavenderbay says:

    LOL, eyegillian!

    You live in Australia, Livingisdetail! How could one NOT be a birder, unless it’s that all those brilliant birds are such a commonplace… Flame Robins, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Cockatiels, Zebra finches, Lyrebirds, Fairy Penguins, Cassowaries, plus the ever-lovin’, ever-laughin’ Kookaburra. Then, when he’s gone through the checklist, you two could kayak across the creek and see the ones in New Zealand, or pull up your deck chairs on Wilson’s Promontory to view Tasmania’s finest.

  4. livingisdetail says:

    Wow, you know your Australian species and locales. I am sorry to say I have only seen cockatiels and zebra finches as pets in captivity. There are some amazing parrots around the place. Lyrebirds are hard to spot – I have seen one once in a place called Sherbrooke forest on the outskirts of melbourne. Cassowaries – beautiful but you don’t want to get on the wrong side of those big birds.

    In my travels around Victoria I have been really missing seeing emus. I don’t know what is going on but I just don’t see them around so much. And as I said in answer to your comment on my blog – the kookaburras are outside my window. I have absolutely no excuse not to hang out with them.

  5. Checkers says:

    Love the picture. Cai’s on the job! He’s got his eye on that interloping veggie bird…

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