OUT: Sunday Column December 14, 2008

Annual bird count carries on despite some sad absences

By the time this morning you pad out in your bunny slippers to read this, I’ll be somewhere on the Colorado River between 30 Road and Fruita with several other well-chilled bird watchers.

Today is the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the Grand Valley Audubon Society as part of the 109th annual multi-national Christmas Bird Count.

Our group’s little section of heaven includes the river corridor, and more than a decade of late-December trips down this watery vale have offered weather ranging from light jackets to full-on blizzards, complete with frozen toes, eyelashes and cameras.

This year’s river trip will be missing the quietly enthusiastic personality and considerable rowing skills of Ann Hartman, who passed away last summer after a short illness.

Ann rowed us down the river in all manner of pleasant and not-so-pleasant winter conditions, and even in the bleakest weather she maintained her good humor, perhaps, as she never hesitated to remind us, because she was the only person staying warm.

The count goes on without her, as it eventually will for all of us, but she’ll be missed, nonetheless.

Another local birder who will be missed this count is Nic Korte, a hiking and birding friend (he’s also Bill Haggerty’s buddy but then nobody’s perfect) who suffered a serious accident earlier this fall while route-finding in Grand Canyon. Hip, pelvis and leg injuries led the doctor’s lengthy report, but it certainly would have been worse had not Nic’s daughter, Ann, and her husband, Grand Junction firefighter Ryan Leonard, been close at hand to administer first aid and go for help.

The good news is he’s recovering fine, even though the road ahead is filled with long hours of therapy.

In a recent e-mail, Nic wrote the rehabilitation doctor reiterated an earlier “one-year estimate for getting all parts back to normal.”

Think what you were doing a year ago, and realize that’s how long Nic has to pull his body together. As he said, despite the pain, there is much for which to be thankful this holiday season.

I just finished reading Chris Hunt’s entertaining new book “Shin Deep: a Fly Fisher’s Love for Living Water” (self-published, $16.99, 138 pp, softcover).The book is a compilation of some of Hunt’s essays on fly fishing, many of them written while he was still locked into a journalist’s job, or perhaps I should say “jobs.”

“Every newspaper job I ever had was situated within easy reach of trout,” is how Hunt, who grew up in Littleton and attended Western State College, describes his reluctance to climb the corporate ladder when such advances meant losing a first-hand acquaintance with some of this planet’s better creatures.

That he left the newspaper business after 13 years covering natural resources to take up full-time advocacy for clean waters and the fish that live in them is the inevitable evolution of someone resolutely connected, as he writes, “to the fish that have gripped my soul.”

Hunt now lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where he’s the communications director for Trout Unlimited’s Public Lands Initiative and as such works at protecting, conserving and restoring disappearing resources across the West.

The collection of essays range from catching brook trout in Rocky Mountain National Park (after first dodging one of the park’s massive bull elk) to a rainy day of salmon fishing on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska when he inadvertently left his fly box at the lodge, a three-hour trip away by boat.

Trying to find a few flies in one of North America’s more isolated yet enthralling fishing locations turns out more difficult than you or I might imagine.

Throughout the 19 well-crafted stories runs the theme of conservation, not simply for trout but for wild places, wild water and the wild creatures who inhabit both realms.

These are entertaining, thoughtful and at times very personal stories of a man who, in the words of another pretty good writer, Aldo Leopold, is among “those who cannot live without wild things.”

Hunt’s book is available on his Web site, http://www.flyfishscribe.com. It’s also available at http://www.createspace.com/3348327 and at amazon.com.

And this “quacked” us up, from the latest issue of Delta Waterfowl Magazine, published by the Delta Waterfowl Foundation (http://www.deltawaterfowl.org).

The foundation’s goal is to preserve waterfowl and waterfowl hunting through research, education and training.

A slip-up in the printing of this year’s 3.5 million federal duck stamps has, instead of a toll-free telephone number for stamp purchases, a toll-free phone-sex number that puts callers through to something titled “Intimate Connections.”

The number on the stamp was supposed to be 1-800-STAMP-24; instead, the number printed on the stamps is, well, if you’re that interested, go buy a $15 duck stamp.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency has no plans to correct the mistake, which would cost around $300,000.

A plan proposed by Delta Waterfowl editors: Since Congress can’t seem to muster the time to pass the Emergency Wetlands Loan Act, perhaps a deal could be arranged with Intimate Connections that would give 50 cents a call to protect waterfowl habitat.

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