Bird Count Blues

A frigid day at Blacktail Mountain cross-country ski area

Subject: Blacktail Mountain Cross-Country Ski Area

Let me set the scene: It’s January 15th, 2015. I turn 37. Every year on my birthday I perform an annual bird count. The last several years I have lived in cold (bitterly cold… Did I mention cold?) climates. The worst was Healy, Alaska, where I spent 15 minutes outside near the Nenana River at -45 degrees and counted one raven in the parking lot. Montana, I felt, might not fare any better. However, I headed out to Blacktail Mountain, with my camera, my skis, and my binoculars.

One mile in, the fog shrouds the trees in a frozen haunted embrace. I am skiing through a crystal, palatial wood. It would be enchanting. It should be enchanting, but it is cold. All I can hear is my teeth chattering echoed by what turned out to be one of three birds for the day, a black-backed woodpecker. I watch him chip away, while I chip away at my one small tangelo. If he is out here, I think, so can I be. I head up slope.

The fog breaks, and I am immediately surrounded by a vast chasm of white and blue. The wind blows through the tree, tinkling the ice like chimes and shaking sugar down from the sky. It is hot! I am sweating! Happy Birthday to me! There is nothing quite like the deep intensity of an alpine blue in winter. My energy is renewed, and I spot a yellow-crowned kinglet in a nearby tree. A great find, any day. However, lesson learned; this year I’m not taking any chances, by the time you are reading this. I will be sitting on a beach in Hawaii, with my binoculars, and my camera, and probably wearing flip-flops and a swimsuit.

Categories: Ranger Rains