Monday, May 21, 2007

Bandin' and brandin'

I spent the weekend on my old stomping grounds-- a working cattle ranch out on Colorado's eastern plains. It was a strangely diverse couple of days.

Typically the third weekend in May is a busy time for migrants on the ranch, so a goodly number o
f birders gather there each year to scour some of its 87,000 acres. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory maintains a spring banding station there, too, so friends converged from all corners of the state.

For cattle ranchers, the third weekend in May falls in branding season. When I lived on the ranch, branding days were my favorites. I loved the heat, the dust, the bruises, and the camaraderie of working my butt off with friends and neighbors.

It all got a little surreal when banding and branding were taking place side-by-side and simultaneously. (What's that song about worlds colliding?)

Unfortunately, a lot of feathered migrants seem to be late this year, so the station and the birding were slow. We did luck out on Saturday and snag an unintended and unexpected young Cooper's Hawk.

Once we shut the mist nets down, I climbed the corral fence to join the dance of cowboys, cowgirls, and cattle. It was a little frustrating to be a spectator rather than participant... but still great fun to admire fine horsemanship and capable ground crews.

Somewhere in the swirling wings and dust of the weekend I was reminded of a book long on my "to read" list, which I still haven't managed to pin down. In 1896, Florence Merriam Bailey published one of the first popular guides to the birds of western North America, A-Birding on a Bronco. She wasn't herself an illustrator, but she consorted with some of the best. (Her 1902 Guide to Birds of the Western United States, was illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.) She was a birder, writer, conservationist, and adventurer... and maybe a closet cowgirl.

My kind o' gal.

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