Saturday, July 19, 2008

Number 2050-37150

The day was pleasant. Nearby, a stream swollen with late season snow-melt hurried to keep its appointment with the Platte River. A small contingency of chickadees held conference in the towering cottonwood looming skyward at the edge of the meadow.
In a few hours, Roman candles and skyrockets of all descriptions would fill the night sky with their colors.
It was the Fourth of July, 1995.
Although anticipation filled the air, all was quiet and peaceful along the secluded stream near Eldorado Springs.
The anticipation was not about what the night held in store, but rather what new species would find its way into the nearby invisible mist net strung between two willows growing along the banks of the stream.
A number of birds had already been caught and released in the Colorado Bird Observatory's tagging program currently underway.
Suddenly, a flurry of wings appeared, as if suspended in mid-air. The mist net began shaking. Quickly, before injury could occur, Tony Leukering rushed to release the net's latest hostage . . . a male Virginia's Warbler.
Carefully, the small captive was removed from its entanglement in the mist net. Measurements were taken and recorded. Weighing then took place. At last, a numbered band bearing the number 2050-37150 was carefully selected and ever-so-gently placed on the small bird's leg.
Little did the tiny subject know he was about to be released. The time for escape had finally come; and escape he did. Immediately heading for the tangled masses of willows, he soon found himself safely within their confines.
After pecking a few times in annoyance at his newly acquired "bracelet," he soon went about his business.
He loved the stream, especially during the mayfly hatch that was currently in progress.
Later in the day, he would join the other Virginia's Warblers nesting among the Gambel's oaks growing on the hillside above the stream.
As with humans - before he knew it - many days had passed. Fall was no longer last year's memory. It was a reality of the present.
The time had come to head south for warmer climates, where food was in good supply.
But where would he go from here? Would he survive the long, arduous journey that lay before him? Would he return the following year? If so, how many years would he repeat the process? These were some of the questions lingering in Tony's mind.
This is where I come into the picture.
The date:  July 23, 1996.
I was just returning from a class outing with a group of young photographers, teaching them the intricacies of nature photography.
Crossing a small footbridge spanning the stream, one of them asked with curiosity, "What's that laying on the boulder?"
There in the midst of the stream, standing like a sentinel, was an immense chunk of rock. Carefully negotiating the stream - not wanting to get my hiking boots wet - I made my way to the boulder.
Gingerly lifting the small lifeless object, I examined it with care. It was a male Virginia's Warbler. On his leg was a small band.
Number 2050-37150 had returned.
The boulder where he lay was within a hundred feet of the very place where he had received his band. A year and 19 days had passed since that eventful occasion.
The band contained an address, requesting its return.
I did as requested.
Within a month I received, through the mail, a Certificate of Appreciation bearing both the seal of the U.S. Department of the Interior, along with that of the Canadian Wildlife Service.
The certificate also contained both banding, and recovery date.
Although a few questions still remain, one thing I know for sure, the little warbler survived a thousand mile migration flight; and, he endured the hardships of yet another winter.
Occasionally, I find myself near his final resting place along the stream. When I'm there and hear the serenade of a Virginia's Warbler, I like to think it comes from one of his offspring.
Maybe there's a message in this story for us too. After all, when our time has come, what better place to find rest than along our favorite stream during the height of a mayfly hatch as did number 2050-37150.
This story was first published in my column, Along The Trail, in the Estes Park (CO) Trail-gazette, March 18, 1996.

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