I first discovered bird watching from a barstool, and ever so often, I find myself back on that stool gazing over the Caribbean.
Chico is my favorite bartender on the island, partly because he makes excellent conch ceviche and partly because of his tolerance of my antics. One afternoon while warming the stool, he asked me how I found the time to bird watch enough in order to write my weekly column on birds.
I explained how bird watching for some isnít a planned event and that birds are always around us. We merely have to stop time and look!
He looked at me strange and asked if I would like another beer.
I could tell he didnít fully understand bird watching, so I enticed him into a round of "barstool bird watching" with a challenge, "I can identify more birds than you without leaving my stool!"
I knew from watching Chico play dominos that he enjoyed gaming, so I bet a round of drinks for the bar.
Luckily, "Tequila Steve" had left us with some binoculars, and the afternoon was young.
Chico washed his chopping block in the barís sink and began to sharpen his knife, peering out the windows overlooking the shoreline. "I see frigates," he said, ". . . five of them! Flying around the fishing boats."
I explained how each specie only counted for one sighting, and the score was Chico - 1, Elbert - 0, Bubba - 0.
After a few other declarations of the rules, Chico agreed to include Bubbaís sightings if he barks first.
Chico began to chop a large, white onion. Two little ground doves were bobbing for sand flies just off the veranda. "Doves!" he yelled, "Thatís two for me!" "What kind of doves," I asked. "Little doves!" he responded.
We talked a while about the rules stating "species". He opened me another beer, and I conceded his score of "little doves".
Chico - 2, Elbert - 0, Bubba - 0. Chico had just settled down and started chopping the conch into bite sized cubes when Bubba suddenly jumped up from his nap in the doorway, ran across the lobby and barked across the street at the breadfruit tree, startling two white-winged doves to fly away.
Chico - 2, Elbert - 0, Bubba - 1.
Before I could swivel around in the bar stool to face the shoreline again, Chico had Petersonís Field Guide in his hand and was yelling, "Magnificent Frigate and the Great Frigate. If Bubba can count two kinds of dove, I can count the Great Frigate. Thatís three for me, one for Bubba, and you donít have zip!"
As fast as I could rattle them off, I took the lead with "Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, Yellow-headed Pelican and Neo-tropical Commorant."
The gameís momentum was interrupted by Chicoís calling foul on my commorant sighting. "Itís underwater," I explained. After a few minutes of studying the surface of the waters around the dock, a commorant surfaced its head with a wiggling eel in its beak and began swallowing. "Youíre lucky," Chico said in a low voice, "Thatís four for you . . ."
Chico - 3, Elbert - 4, Bubba - 1.
Chico opened me another beer and began to chop habaŮera peppers. We had not noticed Bubba slip out to the end of the dock until he barked in the air at a soaring osprey; prancing back up the dock, Bubba pointed his nose up again at a black-headed gull and gave a short, cocky bark. I could tell he was in a mood to show off. He leaped from the dock landing in the middle of six sandpipers with his third bark, then walking to the veranda, he stopped to give a "woof" into the hibiscus, giving notice to the Cinnamon Hummingbirds. He honestly looked smug as he plopped down in his favorite spot at the bar.
Chico - 3, Elbert - 4, Bubba - 5.
The ceviche was ready! Chico was putting it in cups with small forks.
He handed me a cup, and at the same time held up a fresh, cold beer. I reached out with both hands and took hold of the two. "Thanks, Chico." Chico paused, and then asked with a smile, "We forgot to decide how this game ends."
After a few bites I began to sweat the pepper with a flush to my face. I explained, "The game never really ends; you just pause awhile and time restarts itself." Chico always looks at me strange when I talk like that. He offered me another beer, and I drank it like water. Chico pointed out that the sun was going down and encouraged me to take my boat home before dark.
Just one more point and it would be a tie. I asked Chico if he had ever been beaten by a dog before, and he said, "It ainít over until the fat lady sings; good night, bye, so long, you and your dog get out of my bar!"
Walking to my boat, I noticed the moon and tide had exposed the turtlegrass beds beside the dock, and hunting in the middle of the bed was a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. I opened my mouth to yell to Chico, but before I could utter a word, there was a soft "woof" from my side . . . how humiliating.
Chico - 3, Elbert - 4, Bubba - 6.