I travel a lot. It takes up most of my time. I always fly, solo.
My territory stretches from the mountains of Central Mexico to Northern Colorado in the spring and the reverse in the fall. My interests are insects, berries and sex. My journey is perilous. I face and flee constant dangers in the sky and on the ground. I instinctively follow waterways, hide in the trees, fuel up and generally continue flying at dawn. With good shelter, food and cover, I stay a day or two. I fly with a group. We are never in formation, rather haphazardly darting, dashing and each of us on our own. Some do not survive the flight.
I like cool weather not hot. I arrived in Steamboat Springs in May in a snow storm. I was cold. My friend left strawberry jam and orange marmalade out. It helped me make it through the night. He welcomes us every spring with food and misses us when we depart. He won’t let us inside. We are too wild.
We brawl with each other, usually in gluttonous avarice, to the point of distraction when another steals and eats the contested portion. I rough house with the one I have my eye on, in hopes of building a house with her, in an airy canopy. I’m gambling on her cupidity. With luck, we’ll leave together when the nest is empty.
The summer is short but sweet high in the Zirkel Mountains. There, we are shy, stay out of sight and feel, as one, the time to return to Mexico. We have destinations, ambitions and goals, but our life is the journey. We are birds of a feather that fly together. Our heads are red. Our beasts are yellow and white bars accent our black wings. Some say we’re the most beautiful species in the Rocky Mountain Empire. Fact or fiction, we are, none the less, the Western Tanager.
Bio: Ken Proper is a career commercial photographer and a decade-long freelance contributor to Southwest Fly-Fishing Magazine. He co-authored Then and Now: A History of Steamboat with Harriet Freiberger, soon to be in its third edition.