THE KEEPER OF THE LIST
By MICHAEL PERKINS
IN ALL THE YEARS I HAVE WATCHED HER PRESIDE over hundreds of both seasoned and starter birdwatchers in the Arizona desert, I can’t recall ever having seen Andree Tardy without her signature We Are Serious About This Stuff sunhat and her loose khaki fatigues. Chances are that if I were ever to bump into her in “civvies” at the local Safeway, I might easily pass her without notice, even though, by now, she has served for years as our group’s go-to Earth Mother, an empirical and encyclopedic source of information on Which Birds Breed With Who, how their plumage changes with the seasons, why the immatures are less resplendent than the adults, and how you can distinguish a “Too-Whit-To-Whoo” from a “Wit-Wit-Wit-Too-Too”. Because she is just that good.
“Okay, did anyone see any vermillion flycatchers?”
I mention Andree’s all-season costume because, for us, it is inextricable from her physical form, the “plumage” by which we identify her “behaviors”. Tough as a turtle’s toenail and consumed with a passion that defies the damage of time, she is, at 81, hardier than many of the sex-and-septuagenarians that trail behind her like lost chicks. That bottomless supply of energy is fed by an insatiable hunger to know more, to see what’s around yet another corner, and the corner after that. I have shot dozens of candids of her over the past twenty years, but I find that minimal images of her in full birders’ regalia registers even higher than a mere facial portrait. She just is the sumtotal of all her outer contours. from her fingerless gloves (easier to work binoculars with) to the billowy slacks that protect her from the scars and scrapes of desert plants to the headgear that all but obscures the aquiline angularity of her face. I can’t imagine making a picture of just her face. It would somehow seem incomplete, like Schweitzer without a pith helmet or Superman without the cape.
The other object that is constantly with her is only withdrawn at the end of bird walks, but is as crucial as every other component in her makeup: The List. Andree’s lifetime role as teacher, interpreter, guide and dauntless ornithological doyenne demands that, at the end of the day’s spotting, she, and she alone call out the categories and species, the better to officially tally the count of what, to a certainly, was actually seen. She knows she can count on us all to honorably report our individual sightings; after all, birding, unlike fishing or hunting, is a system built on honor, along with a proper Hippocratic pimch of “do no harm”. Anyone can teach someone else about birds, but The Lady Herself also teaches respect, humility, responsibility. The birds, and all who choose to watch them alongside her, could not be in better hands.
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