“Pst, pst. Hey, bub.”
I’m ambling by the Marina at Tempe Town Lake, trying to mind my own business. I halt and turn my head. It’s a cormorant. He’s sunning at the end of a bobbing boat with some feathered buddies. And looking straight at me, whispering as if he’s got a hot Rolex or two up his wing.
“Come here,” the bird says. “I ain’t gonna hurt you. Name’s Claudio.”
I’m wary. He’s on the lam, I think. Another illegal immigrant. I’m worried too. I fear Sheriff Joe’s around the corner in the bushes and will drag me off to his Madison Avenue Jail just for talking to this odd bird, who’s supposed to be in Mexico. Or in Argentina, depending on the season.
“Been out here since ’79,” I tell him. “Never saw no cormorant before.”
Worse, this bird’s got an alias. Used to be a olivaceous cormorant. Now he’s a neotropic. Changing names won’t help him out here in the arid lands. It’s what you look like. This dude is dark. Real dark. If spotted, he’s dead meat. And that long tail won’t help him any. Not with those stiff boards that live in the gated communities around here.
“What you doin’ here?” I ask nervous as hell, listening for sirens.
“Ain’t you got the word, pal?” the cormorant says. “We’re legal. No one’s checking us at the border anyway. A few of us been comin’ up this way for years now. The weather’s too hot down south. We like it up here. Lotsa my friends comin’ too.”
“Why’re you telling me this?”
“We’re a little scared of you gun-totin’ Arizonans. We’re peaceful. We just hang out, gobble up a few minnows here and there in the lake, some insects. Just tryin’ to get the word out. Here, read this.”
From a satchel, the cormorant grabs a printout and flips it over to me with a webbed foot. The doc is published by some ornithologists at Cornell University. You know, the Ivy school in New York state. Shows results of The Great Backyard Bird Counts from the beginning in 1998 to present.
I hurry over it, thinking that at any moment I could be shackled and taken away.
The document says the neotropic cormorant was not seen in Arizona for the first four years, until 2002, and even then there were only a few migrants. But then starting in 2007, wham-o. One hundred and 15, followed by 512 in ’08. This year 354.
“What’s going on?” I ask, now more interested than I had been.
“Ain’t you ever heard of global warming, pal?”
“Yeah,” says I, “but hardly anyone up north here believes it except scientists. We don’t cotton much to science up here. We have faith. When thinks get dark, we stand up and sing, ‘God Bless America.’ That seems to help.”
“Well, OK,” says the cormorant, lighting up a Cuban cigar. “I tried. We won’t be here long anyway. Too damned hot. We’re going north again. The Dakotas maybe. Might even give Moose Jaw a try. Runnin’ out of room.
“Anyway, best of luck. Sounds like y’all need it.”