My Search for the Red Phantom

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: budandjackie via Compfight cc

Sixty years ago I saw my first scarlet tanager. I was ten.

I was sitting outside “in the country,” and I don’t know what made me look up, but there was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen.  I called it a “real bird” because it was different than the plain brown birds I was accustomed to seeing. A “real bird” was the kind of bird I only saw in the Golden Guides my parents bought for me.

The scarlet tanager was in a tulip tree. The tulip tree was a “real tree” which I had also recently identified from my tree books. The days of pouring over those books were finally paying off.

I don’t know how long the gorgeous red bird graced me with his presence, but I do know that at the age of ten, it was one of the most joyous experiences of my life.  It was the day my hobby was born. After that day, and for the next sixty years I searched for another scarlet tanager and another tulip tree. The tulip trees were easy. I saw many of them.

But the scarlet tanager quest was unfulfilled.

The sad part of the story is I admit, “I am the worst birder in the entire world.” On Audubon outings when I am on my best game, and I can see color, I can identify birds that are close up. On outings when I am on my regular game, I can confuse pigeons with bald eagles.  I have learned to laugh at myself and have tried to educate myself. Even though I am “the worst birder,” I love being outdoors, being silent, and absorbing the sights and sounds of nature into my soul.

No scarlet tanager. How can that be? The bird books says he (the bright red male with black wings) is up there, but hard to find. Hard to find! I wonder how many other scarlet tanager searchers have been seeking the red phantom for sixty years? I am supposed to listen for him. Well, I mix up all my bird vocalizations, much as I try to work on improving my sightings.

I’m sure if I asked for help, from the many wonderful birding guides I’ve known over the years, I might have seen my tanager decades ago. But I didn’t. Mine was a private desire, lingering in my psyche for so many years—my tanager was becoming my holy grail.

(Of course, between my cataracts, retina surgery, touch of macular degeneration, hearing problems, perhaps I should be given a bird watching handicap…I don’t know what that is, but I know golfers get one) Oh well, I digress.

So the other morning I’m just sitting at my kitchen table and looking out to my deck where I have a bird bath (a plant saucer with two rocks in it for balance) and guess what! There, sitting on the edge of the plant saucer and leaning in to sip the water, is my scarlet tanager—the bird I have not seen in sixty years!

The last time I saw him, I was wearing plaid Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless shirt, and red or blue Keds sneaks. I probably went into the house and ate a tuna fish sandwich on white Wonder Bread, cut in squares by my mother. Maybe I cooed to my brother sleeping in his crib. If it was a Sunday, maybe my father was there reading the travel section of the paper and eating bread and butter, or maybe borscht.

That’s why, the other day, when I saw the scarlet tanager, I cried, hard.

It took me a long time to recover, and I was glad I was alone. I thought “No one will understand.”

But I do hope you will.

And, my scarlet tanager? I don’t know where he is now. But I am hoping he will drop in again.

Football Betting is For the Birds!

Photo Credit: furanda via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: furanda via Compfight cc

My daughter and I are in a football survivor pool. For those of you not in the know – survivor pool is the greatest invention for gambler wannabees during football season. A survivor pool doesn’t require much skill.

I don’t need to spend the time and energy that a fantasy football team requires. It’s low commitment, loads of fun, and, simple.  Here’s all I have to do each week:

  • I look at all the multiple football games being played that week.
  • I pick out one game
  • Then I pick the winner of that game.
  • If I win, I advance to the next week where I start all over again. Pick any team and then pick a winner.
  • Here’s the catch though. I can never pick my winning team again.

So, my daughter and her husband tell me, there are a variety of schools of thought on picking winners

  • Go strong at the beginning and go for a guarantee of a great team.
  • Some players, however, opt to leave their strongest teams until the end.

I play differently.  As an Audubon nature lover, my picks are all focused on teams that are named after birds.  As I have told you earlier in this blog, I’m not good with statistics and only passed in college because I was dating the instructor’s buddy.

Here are my current results. So far my bird teams haven’t let me down.

  • Week One, I chose the Seahawks and they won.
  • Week Two, I abandoned Jerome the Great and Good’s NY Giants, and chose the Cardinals. (I love the way cardinals feed their young and my granddaughter lives in Arizona. Makes perfect sense, don’t you think?)Yes. The Cardinals won.
  • Week Three, I picked the Eagles. Once when I picked up a piece of litter from a mucky pond, a bald eagle swooped over my head in salute, and I didn’t even think anyone was watching.

This Week Four,  I’m torn between the Ravens and the Falcons? What to do? What to do?  Got it!  I love crabs, both the succulent soft shell ones and the hammer ‘em open hard shells. Baltimore’s got them both,

As the sun sets and our midnight dreary approaches,  I’m wondering if Jerome the Great and Good is going to roll his eyes again at my weird team picks. The answer to that philosophical question is” Nevermore, nevermore”… because I keep winning.

Ravens it will be!



A Bad Birder, Some Bicyclists and a Battlefield

Photo Credit: howardignatius via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: howardignatius via Compfight cc


“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to my husband, Jerome The Great and Good, as we left the parking lot and approached the beginning of the uphill trail to the Stony Point Battlefield Lighthouse, “I’m not in shape.”

He said, “There’s no rush. Whenever you’re tired, we’ll stop and rest.”

We took two steps up the path, and I stopped and rested.

With another couple of steps upward, the immortal words of The Sound of Music were resounding in my sweaty ears.

Climb every mountain; ford every stream.

Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”

My dream was survive the climb to the lighthouse so that I could then go home and reward myself with a big fat lox and onions omelet washed down with one or two Bloody Mary’s. Mmm just the thought of the meal propelled me forward.

I had been to the lighthouse before. If one could make it up the hill, one would be rewarded with a wonderful view of the Hudson Highlands as well as an educational tour of an historic Revolutionary War Battlefield.

As we turned the corner to the beginning of the trail, I saw a guy sitting on a bench. Next to him was  a box filled with bottles of water, white sandwich bags, and oranges. As Jerome and I trudged past him, I croaked out a hello.

He looked down at his box of food and pretended not to hear me.

“Snotty bastard,” I mumbled to Jerome. “He must have heard me say I was out of shape and dreaming of food.  I really hate him.”

As Jerome and I were midway on the hill toward the lighthouse, we looked back down at the beginning of the trail. The guy with the box was surrounded by a swarm of bicycle riders. Oh no.

All I wanted was some peace and quiet and a bit of exercise to justify my upcoming meal and beverage. Now at the top, we would be surrounded by the bicyclists. Were they actually going to ride up the hill to the lighthouse?

“Let’s hurry,” I said to Jerome. “There’s only one bench up there and I want it.” My plan was to sit on the bench and enjoy the view. Maybe I’d stroll around with my binoculars and try to find one bird I could recognize.

I really have issues with some bicycle riders.  In addition to riding double and hogging the road, they are the biggest outdoor snobs in a world of outdoor snobs. Trust me. I know.

Did you ever meet a bicycle gang at a rest-stop?  You’re standing there chowing down on your donut, and they’re standing there sipping their water. You try to make conversation. Ah, forget conversation—how about just plain eye contact!   If you’re not wearing spandex, or if you’re a trifle wide in the rump, you’re invisible.

Jerome and I pressed on, reached the top of the mountain, and he plopped down on the bench and immediately started snoring. I sat next to him, trying to catch my breath.  I figured if the bicyclists came, I would definitely move into serious birding mode.  Serious birding for me is also called “pretend birding” because I am the world’s worst birder.

I heard the bicyclists. They were walking up the hill.

As I heard the bicyclists coming up the hill, you would have thought I was Audubon. Grabbing my binoculars, I headed toward a low cluster of mountain shrubs.

Interesting! Without their bikes, the tight-assed ones were a huffin’ and puffin’ when they reached the top of the hill. They collapsed on the grassy knoll surrounding the bench where Jerome was snoring.

“Oh, God, I’m dying,” said one of them. He mopped his brow and gulped his water.

“Well now! How-do-you-do! Ha! Ha! Hee! Hee!” is what I was thinking.Of course I didn’t say anything because I was pretending that the bicyclists were invisible. Besides, I was much too busy scanning the shrubs with my binoculars

“See any interesting birds?” asked one of the bicyclists.

He actually talked to me!

“Oh, so many ,” I shared. “too many to name.” It was time for Jerome and me to scram.

Two Bloody Mary’s and two lox and onion omelets were awaiting our triumphant return from our hike.