Dead Birding Expert

A lady who guided weekly birding groups in Northern Arizona died recently. I went out with her group several times last summer and learned a lot about the local birds from her.  Like how the Common Yellowthroat goes ‘witchity-witchity,’ or how you don’t pronounce the l’s in Cordilleran Flycatcher, or how the Montezuma Well picnic area is a good place to find the elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo (although I still haven’t seen one.)  I also learned about the deadly threat of killer bees.

On the car ride out to a birding site one week she told us all about how in the last couple decades the bees have become increasingly common in the region. She told stories of unsuspecting victims: A man found next to his tractor dead with a sting-riddled body. Hikers diving for their lives into the nearest pond only for the bees to wait them out. Bees chasing terrified people running full speed for a quarter-mile. 

Apparently one slight disturbance and hundreds will swarm you, stinging multiple times each even after you’ve succumbed. She really painted the picture of a merciless, irrational, hate-filled insect, closer to a psychopathic, vengeful human than another organism just trying to survive in nature. 

I don’t know the actual likelihood of getting death-stung. She could’ve been over-reacting. But she scared the shit out of all of us. What a way to die, we all thought and jittered and flinched a little extra on the trail that day.

The birding expert was diagnosed with leukemia a couple months after that and passed away this summer. You could say in the end the killer bee worries were all a waste cuz she didn’t actually die from that. But maybe it was a good fear. It was just so energetic, imaginative, and contagious. So crisp, bright, and purposeful. You couldn’t’ve had that fear unless you were alive.

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