My stress doesn’t come close to the stress wildlife endured this winter, but it’s been there daily, mainly in the form of wonder and hope. In a phone call with my dad earlier this winter, I lamented the tough conditions for chukar and the rest, and he reminded me of this wonderful Emily Dickinson poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm. I’ve heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
It doesn’t cost us anything to hope, and we did plenty of that this winter. On a recent bluebird day we got a chance to look for the birds whose mere existence warms our collective souls.
It felt amazing to walk uphill, and reminded us of the abbreviated season and what we missed in its last month, and what the dogs missed. To say they were gleeful would be an understatement. We ascended up a two-track for a couple of miles, and then climbed off the road and circled back through some terrain I’ve seen plenty of birds on over the years, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything.
I kept a close, hopeful eye on the dogs, though, and they began getting birdy in the stiff wind. And then Angus pointed, and Peat picked it up with a classic low-rider high-speed creep up to a steady backing position. Not having a gun, I enjoyed the rare chance to capture this beautifully addicting dance with a camera. A covey of 10 chukar busted. A short while later, my bird gods pointed another covey of about 10 chukar. And just a few minutes later, they pointed a covey of 5 Hungarian partridge. On the short walk along the creek on the way back to the truck, Angus dislodged a large grouse (couldn’t tell if it was a ruffed or dusky). All of the birds we saw looked sizeable and healthy. 4 miles, a couple hours, and a result greater than the hoped-for. We’ll steer clear of birds now so as not to disturb their mating, but I do feel relieved to have seen more survivors than expected.