By Sunshine Jowell - RRAS Member
When the pandemic hit us last Spring, my world became very small. Like so many others, my environment suddenly became my house. No longer would I hop into my car each morning to commute for 20 minutes along the 95 listening to my latest curated playlist. Work would be the same, but without the day-to-day walks through my large building with a coffee in hand to commiserate with friends and colleagues, or sometimes enjoy a long lunch with my team. A recently purchased Rick Steve’s guidebook to Italy would be tucked away in a drawer—only read halfway through.
But most depressing of all, I’d lose my birding community. I’d lose my monthly romps through bramble and brush and mud as we’d somewhat silently make our way with our cameras and scopes through the areas around the Valley looking at wonders I’d only recently discovered since joining the Red Rock Audubon Society in 2019. Wonderful and amazing creatures I’d only before seen in documentaries and in books, that I couldn’t believe really lived here in Nevada, and even more that traveled through from time to time—the most beautiful and wonderous tourists to our city.
I had been learning so much from the members of RRAS since I’d joined. I had decided through my fascination of painting birds and animals that perhaps I should learn more about them, so I went on my first Wetland’s Walk—and I’ve been hopelessly hooked ever since. And with each birding adventure I’d learn something new from someone in the group. These amazing folks of all ages and professions, who had a wealth of knowledge about bird colors, calls, habits, and eccentricities.
But in the Spring of 2020, my birding community was closed. We were no longer able to walk with each other. For a while, I couldn’t even leave my home out of fear I’d bring back with me some terrible and incomprehensible disease.
So I did what many others probably did: I turned my dining table into a workspace and spent eight hours a day on Zoom. I followed as many birders as I could on social media to get my fix. I found books I could read about different species of birds (and dinosaurs). But my world was very small.
In a particular moment of pitiful despair one evening, I was standing in my backyard on a clear night. I was hoping to see a few stars—though in the last decade my part of town has had an increase in light pollution due to urban sprawl. I no longer have a view of the Strip and the sunset in the distance. Now my backyard faces apartment complexes and warehouses.
As I was glimpsing the constellation Cassiopeia and feeling angry at myself for never learning how to sew, and therefore having no mask-making skills, a strange movement off to the right at the top of one of the warehouses caught my eye. And there it was! I could see wings. Very large, flapping wings.
Before I could convince myself I was hallucinating, I ran inside to dig my binoculars out of my backpack. Quietly I slid open the balcony door and looked up again. There she was. Perched on the edge and feeding greedily from something under her feet, was quite possibly the largest and most magnificent Great Horned Owl I’d ever seen. I watched her for about 10 minutes, until curiosity got the better of me and I had to step inside to confirm via Google that a Great Horned Owl would live in my area (about 3 miles from the Wetlands Park in Henderson).
She must have stayed about 45 minutes that night. Feeding on heaven-knows-what atop that audacious, but well-lit warehouse. And instead of thinking to myself, “Oh goodness, we have rats now.” (That thought would come later.) I thought, “The world has come to me.”
My world isn’t small. I had made it small. I had thought it small. I had given it limits.
After that night, I created an event for my work colleagues once a week called “Backyard Birding”. We’d spend about one hour each week, around lunchtime, outside on our Zoom calls in our yards or any neighboring park that offered wi-fi, where we could spot and talk about birds. Some of my friends had enviable hummingbird feeders, and others just couldn’t get enough of the goofy pigeons who tormented their indoor cats. The content didn’t really matter much, but it was a view of each other’s world.
Our world moves on, the birds still fly.
About a week after my owl visitation, my son—still upset and begrudging his gym closure—came back from his evening run around the neighborhood.
“Mom! Mom! You’ll never believe what I saw! There’s an OWL on top of SOMEONE’S HOUSE!!!”
How is your world? I’d love to hear about the changes and adjustments you’ve made to your own birding adventures over the last year. Please feel free to reach out to me through the members of this newsletter.