When the Red, Red Robin…
In Bone Dance: a crime and mystery collection by The Ladies’ Killing Circle
He sucked in his breath at the sound he’d been waiting for, a faint, almost flute-like trill. Perhaps it wasn’t a trill at all. But just in case, Harry raised his binoculars. It never hurt to be too prepared. Boy Scout Harry. That’s what his buddy, Sam, called him. He even had his notebook handy to check off another species. Fifteen was his count so far this summer. One more sighting and he’d tie Sam’s record from last summer. Two more and he’d win.
The new bird guide he’d got for his thirteenth birthday said ferns were the preferred habitat of the shy Hermit Thrush. So he focused the lens on some big ferns growing in a small clearing beyond the next line of trees. A long feathery frond wavered. Harry waited not quite believing his luck. He knew the wind hadn’t moved it, since the breeze seldom got this far into the Mont Orford forest.
A single flute note sounded again, followed by the thrush’s familiar spiraling scale. Although Harry was sure it came from behind those ferns, he didn’t want to leave his hiding spot for a better view. He might scare his target away. A sighting in flight didn’t count. Instead, Harry shifted his position behind the fat spruce so he could focus his binoculars on a gap through the ferns.
If it really were the Hermit Thrush, Sam would turn green. Even eagle-eyed Sam hadn’t checked off this species yet.
Harry’s pulse quickened at the sight of a brown flash behind the emerald green fronds. He could swear it was the same rusty brown colour as the picture in his guide. If he saw brown spots he would be golden. Only problem, in order to see the spots, the target had to face him. Trick was how to get the target to turn around without sending it into flight.
But if Harry was anything, he was patient. He’d proven it last summer, when he and Sam were going after the Eastern Bluebird. His buddy had spotted the streak of blue near a flock of male American Goldfinches by one of the Arts Centre studios. But that sighting didn’t meet the rules he and Sam had laid down. The target had to be alone, away from buildings and most importantly had to be making its distinctive call.
Sam had read in a book at school that the Eastern Bluebird liked open fields. So for most of that blistering afternoon they’d hidden in the shade of the red pine plantation they called the Telephone Pole Forest, next to Farmer Moineau’s cow pasture. Eventually Sam had given up. But Harry had hung in. Even passed up a boat ride on Lake Memphrémagog in Sam’s uncle’s new inboard.
Finally, with dinner time fast approaching, his patience had been rewarded with the unique song of guitar-like twangs. Then he’d sighted the telltale blue plumage. Despite his growling stomach, he’d remained hidden in the underbrush watching the Eastern Bluebird preen herself. And that was another rule. Only the female of the species counted.
The ferns moved again. Harry held his breath. He thought he saw a couple of brown spots, but couldn’t be sure. He had to get closer to see over the ferns into the hollow where the Hermit Thrush remained hidden. He inched silently forward. One step. Two steps. Three. A brief flutter stopped him.
As the scale of warbling notes filled the clearing, he slowly brought his binoculars back up to his eyes. He pointed them to where he’d seen the movement, directly into a narrow trench at the edge of the fern patch. He almost chortled out loud when he saw the characteristic brown dot markings against a white background.
Point scored for the good guys. One more and he’d beat Sam.
But his sighting was almost ruined by the abrupt appearance of the American Robin. What’s going on? Same thing happened last year. Harry had no sooner checked off Eastern Bluebird in his book than out bobbed this red-breasted menace…
To find out how it ends buy Bone Dance