Latest from Book of Birds: “French Whimbrel”

I went out for a walk on Easter morning, and all the houses in the nice Boulder neighborhoods had their windows open wide with the scent of French Toast wafting out.

Inside families gathered around their dining room tables, special occasion content, cutting into their holiday breakfasts with forks and knives.

I was planning on solitarily eating the bottom-crumbs of a Cheerios box, and it made me curious again about why they were in there but I was out here.

Later I received an alert to go to the Boulder Reservoir, where people had recently spotted a Whimbrel, a migrating shorebird rare to the area.

When I got there I could still smell French Toast. It wasn’t just my memory. Families with children and large pets were actually making it with pans and measuring cups right there on the mudflats at the edge of the water.

I tried to ignore them and spot the bird.  A group of three other birders were already there to help point it out.

“It flew to the far shore,” one said.

“It was close earlier,” the other said.

“But THEY scared it off,” the last one said.

They pointed to one of the French Toast families, who were rubbing a stick of butter all over their big dog, an eggshell resting upon its nose.

“They’re French Toasting everything,” one birder said.

“Just like Jesus got French Toasted millennia ago,” the other said.

“Luckily he returned as a Belgian Waffle,” the last said.

“Oh yeah,” I said.

Just then the Whimbrel flew into view and landed right in front of us. Gray bird with long curved bill who’d chosen this spot out of all of North America to snag invertebrates out of the sand.

“Hey,” some French Toast children pointed it out to their parents, “can we get that thing over there?”

“Yes,” the parents said, “you can do anything you put your minds to.”

And then the children ran after the Whimbrel, and the bird had to start flapping its wings to get away.

“Don’t ever give up!” the parents told them.

So the children chased it persistently and eventually were able to capture it under a mixing bowl.

“Easter, Easter, Easter,” the children chanted and danced around it.

Then they got out the whisk, and kitchened the bird until its body was grease slick and yokey yellow. They heated the wings just the right shade of griddle-brown, powdered down its distinct eye stripe with sugar, and submerged it’s evolutionary designed longlegs into glasses of premium, fresh-squeezed orange juice.

“French Whimbrel,” one birder shook their head.

“Why do they French Whimbrel, but we do not?” the other asked.

“Because we are birders,” the last sighed, “and we just watch.”

Finally the French Toast family revealed the centerpiece of the Easter Sunday beach feast, a bottle of Grade A authentic Vermont Maple Syrup, which they poured slowly and stickily over every curlew feather until the rare migrant had nearly transformed into total food.

“Those non-suffering creeps,” I said. “What can stop them?”

The birders looked down at their binoculars, cameras, spotting scopes, and field guides and just shrugged.

Suddenly lightning struck on the horizon and a cold, gray wind blew in.  The French Toast families’ hats and napkins rose up into the breeze, and stacks of wheat bread began to tumble.

“Abandon!” someone ordered.

And then they all ran intensely toward their vehicles, parents screaming at children, big dogs barking, and cooking debris scattered all along the shore.

The Whimbrel escaped in the chaos and launched right up into the storm-brewing sky, presumably north to Arctic frontiers, destined to drip batter all along the Central Flyway.

The birders and I nodded to each other, marked “French Whimbrel” on our checklists, and headed out to our separate shelters.

April 2019, Boulder, CO… first appeared in Entropy’s “The Birds” series

Listen to “French Whimbrel” here!
Whimbrel which hasn’t been French Toasted yet… (Santa Barbara, CA 2018)

For more from Book of Birds…

For more from the Nine Books series…

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