The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Viewing the wildlife

Rachael Conlin Levy

It is a patient flock that stands along the edge of the dirt road and waits — for the motorcycle to pass, for the dust to settle, for the silence to return — before they renew their search for the Townsend’s Solitaire. They are patient in their walk, which is slow and quiet.  They are patient in their knowledge, which is peculiar and deep, and includes information about the white-headed woodpecker’s tongue, which wraps around the inside of its skull like a helmet. They are patient in their smugness, as they respond to a novice’s request to identify the black bird with red wings that just flew by. “It is a red-winged blackbird,” comes the answer. Now they shift their weight and settle in to wait some more, sorting out the sounds — the wind through the trees, the conversation from a nearby camp, the trills and cheeps of other birds — before finding it again, a singular, high-pitched call. Right there. Did you hear it? Yes? A bird flies past and all heads turn to follow it, identify it: “Only a robin,” one birder said. Somebody stirs the dust with a boot, two begin a conversation about last night’s owl walk, but most continue to scan the sky as the sound grows louder and faster, zeroing in on the group like a missile. Suddenly a bird skims past and lands in a nearby bush. In unison, binoculars are raised and breaths are held. I squint and find the thin gray bird with its long tail and sharp black eye. “This is the second time I’ve seen Townsend’s Solitaire,” one birder whispered. I look at the group gazing at this nondescript bird and decide they are much more interesting to observe.






6 responses to “Viewing the wildlife”

  1. Interesting observation. The lookers do seem more entertaining than the gray bird. Those hungry little mouths are pretty awesome. I hope they are fed soon.

  2. Cool! What was the event/group you were with? And what’s that marvelous book your son’s looking at with the ages of the baby birds?

  3. Rachael says:

    Denise, During our bluebird count, we were able to see a male return to the nest with an insect. The anticipation of lunch triggered a level of noise from within the small box that surprised us all.

    Christina, the bluebird count, as well as the age identification sheet, is sponsored by the Audubon’s annual (free and open to the public) campout. You can learn more about it here: It’s our second year attending — at the kids’ request.

  4. Linda says:

    Oh, your pictures are so beautiful! I feel as if I can reach out and actually touch them.

  5. I certainly cannot qualify myself as an official birder, but I’m pretty damn sure I saw a Western bluebird today. It was a small bird, striking bright blue, reddish chest, gray belly. That’s all.

  6. Sounds like you did, lucky gal. The flash of blue is like a living jewel — rare and precious.

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