I wasn’t on my own as I travelled across the USA. David came with me the whole way and Gladys was there almost throughout.
The Sibley ‘Guide to birds‘ was in the passenger seat of my Hyundai Sonata right the way across the USA. Border Patrol officers glanced at it and were reassured that I really was birdwatching and not smuggling people or drugs. David accompanied me into diners and spent the night with me in motel rooms. His pages were flicked through while I ate hash browns in Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. He provided most of the answers I was looking for. He was even the perfect size to slip behind my back and give lumbar support on those long days of driving.
He now sits on my bookshelf and will remind me, over the next three months of writing, of the sights of gorgeous warblers, difficult flycatchers, numerous woodpeckers and the hummingbird that got away. Just the sight of the red-tailed hawk on the front cover takes me back to blue skies in Arizona, telegraph posts in New York and points in between.
Gladys joined me on Day 2 but I only discovered that her real name is Samantha much later. She is the voice of my satnav and she gave accurate and useful advice, in a timely manner right across the USA. When I strayed she didn’t even sigh before telling me how to get back on track. Gladys, you took me to new places and I am really grateful for that.
As always in the USA I was struck by the widespread nature of some bird species. There is the east/west divide which means that you drop some familiar companions on either side of this fascinating varying biogeographical line but some species stay with you. Let’s hear it for the raven for example – a species I saw in northern Michigan where the winters are hard and Arizona where the summers are torrid. Mockingbirds were with me almost everywhere too. House sparrows and starlings are found just about everywhere across the USA and many Americans would like us to take them back. But one bird I saw on most days, and in some numbers on many of them, was the mourning dove. Because my journey was focussed on getting information and inspiration for my book on passenger pigeons I believe that mourning doves must be mourning their passenger pigeon cousins.
I can honestly say that every time I saw a mourning dove I thought ‘passenger pigeon’ – a species once so abundant that its numbers would have meant that if it had been found right across the span of my travels then almost every other bird I would have seen in the USA would have been a passenger pigeon.
I’d better write that book.
Tomorrow finishes these American blogs with some thank yous and then this blog will go back to its accustomed UK focus.