All this is
nonsense. Bird watchers yearn to get as far away as possible from familiar
scenes. After the experts have combed Trinidad and Madagascar and Nepal and
Peru, they can return home and write of the pleasures of watching blue jays and
robins. Bird watchers have their heroes, and they almost always discover, or
rediscover, rare birds. One hero of bird watchers' folklore is Charles Bendire.
Stationed at Fort Lowell near Tucson in 1872, Major Bendire rode out alone one
day to look for the zone-tailed hawk. He found a nest. "The bird was so
very tame I concluded to examine the nest before attempting to secure the
parent," he wrote, "and it was well I did so. Climbing to the nest I
found [an] egg, at the same instant saw from my elevated position something
else—namely, several Apache Indians.... In those days Apache Indians were not
the most desirable neighbors, especially when one was up a tree and
unarmed." Bendire put the egg in his mouth and slowly descended, knowing
that any haste would indicate to the Indians that he had seen them, which might
lead them to attack him. He grabbed his shotgun, mounted his horse and raced
back to the Fort, holding the egg in his mouth—"and a pretty big mouthful
it was"—thus preserving for posterity a specimen of the zone-tailed hawk's
exult in at last finding the bird they searched for, but they have trouble
communicating this exultation to anybody except other bird watchers. William
Dawson, in The Birds of California
, tried hard to express his surprise at
hearing a western yellowthroat utter a unique and unexpected song.
"We...were not unprepared for shocks," he wrote, "when Hoo hee,
chink I woo chu tip fell upon the ear. Again and again came the measured
accents, clear, strong and sweet." In The Trail of the Money Bird, Dillon
Ripley of the Smithsonian told of his search in New Guinea for bruijn's brush
turkey, Aepypodius bruijnii, discovered by plume hunters in the late 1800's and
not seen again until 1939, when Ripley examined birds shot by one of his native
hunters, "and there, wonder of wonders, was Aepypodius bruijnii!"
This was the
heroic tradition in which Victor Emanuel grew up, and the fading hope of
finding the horned guan was painfully evident. By the fourth day he had taken
to showing the beginners the birds of the forest edge. "We're trying to get
lots of birds to lots of people," he said philosophically. At night he set
out to look for owls.
"I am in awe
of Emanuel," Plimpton has written. "Just a flash of wing, or the
mildest of sounds, and he has himself an identification." His instant
mastery of the elusive cloud-forest birds was startling; he saw them where you
could not see them until he patiently directed your glasses to the right
branch; he guessed a bird might be one hitherto unspotted and, when you looked
in the field guide, he was invariably right: a yellowish flycatcher, a
yellow-throated brush-finch, a black hawk-eagle, a white-bellied chachalaca. He
indicated the subtle differences between species. "The social flycatcher,
the boat-billed flycatcher and the great kiskadee are incredibly similar,"
he'd say. "They have black-and-white striped heads and yellow breasts and
short tails and they're chunky birds...." When your attention-span limit
was reached he held out the promise of future pleasures. "Tomorrow we'll go
back to that first ridge we climbed. I have a wine-throated hummingbird staked
out there." There were birds enough to give even a beginner an impressive
life list. But the horned guan was not among them.
Evening of the
fourth day. We were sitting around the fire at the camp. Dave Johnson had not
returned. He had gone down the Pacific trail toward Mapastepec the day before
with Minturn Wright and Rod Thompson. At 1 p.m., Wright and Thompson decided to
climb back, but Dave said he would look around a little longer. It was agreed
that he must have been caught by darkness and decided to spend the night on the
trail. If he was not back by dark tonight, we would start out after him with
flashlights. At 6:30 p.m. he appeared through the underbrush and stretched out
on the grass by the fire. "I found it." he said.
He had seen the
azure-rumped tanager. After Minturn and Thompson left him he had gone farther
down the trail. At 3:30 he stopped to watch a number of warblers. "All of a
sudden," he said, "while I'm looking at them, I saw it. I said, 'Holy
smoke, that's it!' An azure-rumped tanager. Eight of them! They stayed there.
Then whust! They're gone. Then four or five minutes later five more came
whizzing by and lit in the same tree."
He decided to
stay there, which meant that he could not hope to get back to camp before dark.
Shortly before sundown the tanagers returned. They acted like the warblers they
traveled with. A spotted nightingale-thrush appeared with them on the trail,
close to where he sat motionless.
realized he would have to spend the night there, he lit a fire and stacked
rocks around it. He had no food and very little treated water left. He made a
brush bed near the fire, which he fed every hour or so. When the cold became
intense, he put the warm rocks under his bed.
ingenious," Mary Ann Neuses said.
In the morning
the azure-rumped tanagers returned. Dave studied them and made notes until 7:30
a.m., then he started back to camp, a climb that took 11 hours.