Kelsey crouched lower in the grass. A beautiful quail (coturnix octumix japonica) strutted pompously around her pond. Kelsey raised her binoculars and magnified the kingly bird. She could see all its tail feathers, from the soft browns to the deep whites. She carefully crept closer. The bird was like a mini-peacock. She pictured it in the store.
Peacock—now travel size! She giggled, and the bird, alarmed, took flight and sailed for a short while over her pond.
Kelsey sighed. Quails were very rare this time of year, and she probably wouldn’t see another one. She gazed through the chicken wire at the tree’s red leaves, sadly drifting down to the ground.
Kelsey had set up a sort of institution for the birds when winter came. She and her mom had worked together to bend chicken wire around and above their backyard. They planted lots of plants, bushes, and they even managed to get their hands on a palm tree. Heaters were placed around the bushes and pond, so that it was always warm.
In the distance, a warm and motherly voice called out.
“Kelsey! Kelsey, it’s lunchtime.”
She sighed and packed up her stuff. Her birder’s notebook, binoculars, and the Guide to Puget Sound Birds went into her backpack. She hung her pouch full of birdseed around her neck.
The gravel under her feet made a pleasing crunch as she walked. Crows flew up when she passed them, like the ripples when you drag your fingers in the water. She was used to random birds, like crows and magpies, appearing in her sanctuary. It happened all the time. Kelsey’s half-frozen fingers fumbled at the latch to open the gate. She walked all the way down the side yard path to the front door of her yellow-and-white house. A cheery orange mailbox at the front walk read 8281. Kelsey pushed down the red flag and flipped through the letters that they had. Bills… more bills… an issue of The New York Times. The cover of The New York Times had an owl on it. Kelsey was intrigued. She put down the bills and opened the magazine. “Birders’ Contest for Kids,” it read. “Two hundred dollars to whoever can spot the most birds in one day.”
Kelsey’s heart leaped. A birders’ contest! She would do great at that… and two hundred dollars! That was enough to buy that sweet little puppy she saw in the pet store the other day. (She may be a birdwatcher, but Kelsey also had a thing for dogs.) She raced into the house. “Mom!” she yelled, carelessly throwing her stuff on the floor.
“Mom! There’s a birders’ contest for kids and the winner gets two hundred dollars which would be enough to buy…”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” said her mom, looking up from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. “A birders’ contest? Two hundred dollars to the winner? My, my, Kelsey. When is this contest?”
Kelsey flipped open the magazine again.
“Tomorrow!” she yelped. “At Sunset Park! Please, Mom, can we go?” Her mom smiled.
“All right, Kelsey. We can go.”
* * *
Ow, ow, ow!”
It was the day of the big birding contest, and Kelsey’s mom was brushing back her long, caramel hair. Her face was screwed in pain as the pink brush practically tugged her hair out of her head.
“There we go, all done,” said her mother, leaning back to survey the braid she had made. Kelsey got up and called to her mom. “C’mon, Mom, we’re going to be late!”
“Dear, did you remember your birder’s notebook?” asked her mom as they were rushing out the door.
“Did you remember your binoculars?” she asked as they pulled out of the driveway.
“Do you have your field guide?” she asked as they got onto the highway.
“Got your bird feed?” she asked as they pulled into the parking lot of Sunset Park.
“Yes, Mom, I’ve got everything.” A large banner was hung by the entrance that stated “Birding Contest.” Kelsey ran over to it. A lady was standing under it with a clipboard. Kelsey jogged over to her.
“Hello,” she said. “Are you here to watch the birding contest or participate in it?”
“Participate in it!” answered Kelsey.
“Name?” asked the lady.
The lady scribbled something on her clipboard. “All right, you’re all checked in. The contest is over there. You’re number three. You’d better hurry, it’s about to begin.”
So Kelsey ran over to the stands. There were four big blocks, each numbered from one to four. Kelsey determinedly stepped up onto the one that read “three.”
A voice boomed out on a hidden loudspeaker.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the contestants! Contestant number one is Ricky Delvosia!”
There was clapping.
“Contestant number two is Lily Michaels!”
“Contestant number three is Kelsey Redburn!”
Everybody clapped for her. It felt great, hearing all that clapping.
“And contestant number four is David Roberns!”
“All right, contestants, when the buzzer sounds, go into the woods. Whenever you see a bird, press your buzzer. You’ll find them on your pedestals.”
Kelsey looked down. A buzzer with a button was at her feet.
“Ready? Three… Two… One…” BEEP!
Kelsey snatched up her buzzer and ran into the forest.
At once she spotted a crow perched on a branch. Beep! Her buzzer wasn’t quite as loud as the other one, but she already had one bird. Aha! A starling and a robin flew above her. Already she had three birds on her list. She was off to a good start!
Kelsey scampered over to a pond and saw a duck and a swan. Beep, beep.
From here she could see the scoreboard.
Ricky had seen four, Lily had seen seven, and Kelsey had seen five… But David… David had seen twenty-six! Even as she watched, the number went up. Twenty-seven… twenty-eight…
Six geese took flight. She beeped her buzzer six times. Her number went up to eleven.
Kelsey raced off into the forest, determined to find the most birds. That David wasn’t going to beat her, no sir!
She rummaged in her bag for a few minutes and finally pulled out the packet of birdseed. She spread it around, crouched down in the bushes, and waited.
Kelsey was very patient; she waited like this for birds almost every day. While everybody else was tramping around, scaring off all the birds, she would be sitting pretty with the grand prize.
Six blue jays arrived and tucked in. A pair of starlings sat down to a quiet dinner for two. A mother robin and her five chicks found a spot for a fun family night. So many birds were arriving!
Suddenly, another announcement boomed out. Kelsey jumped. Her buzzer went flying out of her hand and landed somewhere under a bush.
“One more minute until the contest is over! One more minute.”
What? Kelsey dived for her buzzer. Her hand groped around and finally hit some thing.
“Three… Two… One…” BEEP!
Kelsey sighed. She was in fourth place, she knew it. She sadly moseyed back to the stands.
“All right, contestants. We’ve gathered up the total number of birds you saw. In fourth place, with eleven birds, Ricky Delvosia!”
What? Kelsey was not in last place? She perked up a little.
“In third place, with twenty birds, Lily Michaels!”
But if she was not in third or fourth place, she would have to be in either second or…
“In second place, with thirty-three birds, David Roberns!”
What? Then that means…
“And in first place, with thirty-seven birds, Kelsey Redburn!”
There was massive applause, but Kelsey didn’t hear it. A friendly arm was put around her back and walked her to the front. Tears of happiness were in her eyes. The crowd had started a chant: “Kelsey! Kelsey! Kelsey!”
Her arms were too weak to hold the huge trophy, but she did it anyway. And as the Golden Eagle trophy flashed in the sun, Kelsey felt as if she was a bird, flying as high as the clouds.