Like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, when you’re someplace new and strange, it’s the “little differences” that get you. Although Missoula does not have the Royale with Cheese (it does have a surprisingly credible assortment of pizzas, but that’s another story) it does have plenty of stuff to throw a Brooklyn gal into culture shock.
Sticking strictly to the birds:
Of the primary-color feeder bird trifecta, there are no Northern Cardinals or Blue Jays here. The cardinals don’t seem to have a close local equivalent; the jay family is represented by Gray and Steller’s, but in town their niche seems to be occupied more by the boisterous and snappy Black-billed Magpie. The Goldfinches are abundant, but their calls are slightly, subtly different. I can hear their accents more clearly than the accents of the people. (Some people would say that I have always had this problem.)
The chickadees also sound different. The nuthatches sound much the same, but in addition to White and Red-breasted, I have to keep an ear (and eye) out for the aptly-named, adorable Pygmy Nuthatch. The waxwings are all Cedar now, but the mountain ash is fruiting abundantly and people speak of Bohemians as though they’re expected, not a rare treat. And speaking of not-rare treats, I go out my back door and see Pine Siskins routinely, instead of braving the cold and mud for them in vain.
And the woodpeckers. Ah, the woodpeckers. If anything sums up the way the avifauna here is just familiar enough to make the differences jarring, it’s the Picidae. It’s flicker time here too, and ostensibly the same flicker, although they look very different indeed from their east-coast conspecifics. Especially compared to something like the Red-naped Sapsucker, which looks an awful lot like a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but is no such thing. We have Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, although more of the latter than I’m used to. We have Black-backed Woodpeckers, which look like you expect woodpeckers to look like, and Lewis’s Woodpeckers, which look like nothing so much as Betsey Johnson’s idea of a woodpecker makeover — although happily without frills.
We have Western Phoebes and Screech Owls, which look virtually identical to their Eastern counterparts but aren’t, perhaps to make up for the damn flickers.
The Osprey is just an Osprey, as it is all over the world. They fly along the river, and the young cry plaintively from their nesting platforms, not eager to fledge, just as they do at Jamaica Bay. It’s nice for some things to stay the same.
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