Sunday, July 6, 2014

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt. Imperial Beach, California. July 4, 2014. Greg Gillson.
It was spring break of my senior year in high school. There are lots of teen movies about this time of life (none worth seeing based on their descriptions--but maybe that's just me). My experience was a bit different than most of my peers, I suspect.

My grandparents were snowbirds, camped out in the Arizona desert for the winter. They'd be coming home to Oregon soon. Could I take the bus from Oregon to Arizona, spend a week in the desert watching birds and exploring with my grandparents, and then return with them? Yes!

So I embarked on a 25-hour Grayhound bus trip from Albany, Oregon to Quartzsite, Arizona. I spent the week with my grandparents, camped out on the desert at Crystal Hill. We explored the desert, did some rock hounding, viewed Indian petroglyphs, and watched birds.

The trip home took a couple of days, my grandfather driving his red pickup and pulling the travel trailer. As we traveled Interstate 5 over the flooded rice paddies outside of Sacramento, I spied my first Black-necked Stilts, March 24, 1977.

Stilts have long necks and bills, and these impossibly long, coral pink legs. They look fragile--ready to break at any moment. Yet they aggressively protect their favorite nesting beaches. With loud chattering screams, starting a couple hundred feet away, they fly directly at the back of your head, gaining speed, veering off only at the very last second. "Please don't hit me. I'm afraid you'll crumple like a crêpe paper kite."

Black-necked Stilt