Saturday, April 23, 2005

The iron bridge road

I was up early to meet Bolt and Andrew in the Thomas lobby again. First, we went to Shroud and Bev’s apartment where a House Finch chose to lay her nest in their hanging pot. Bolt gently took the pot down and handed it to Andrew. We gazed in wonder while Bolt snapped a few pictures of the nestlings. Then we were off.

This was my first visit to the iron bridge road. It captured me immediately. Honeysuckle and Spiderwort lined the narrow dirt road, and the nearby lake sparkled. The one discomfort was the cold wind. I brought a jacket but was still cold. Bolt didn’t even have that much. I guess the older sister in me surfaced; I had a hard time focusing on birds while he was so cold.

After a short time of walking, we came upon the iron bridge itself. I can’t say that it was the most impressive structure, but the birds it allowed us to see more than made up for that. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Pelicans – the lake was brimming with all of these. I had no idea that such incredible birds were so close to me for all these months.

As we continued walking, the day warmed up. Really, it turned out to be a glorious day – the type of day that makes me want to jump and sing and forget about responsibility for a while. Indigo Buntings were plenteous. Bolt spotted a Painted Bunting, but I only had time to see the flash of a red tail as the bird flew across the road.

The road took a turn that led to the railroad tracks. Nearby, a gate stood open, beckoning to us. We answered its call.

The road took us first through an open, sandy area. Then it led to a creek and a marsh-like habitat. We heard a Chat singing; I liked the diversity of its music. Although we searched for the bird, we couldn’t find it.

The road didn’t want us to turn around, I know. We had to though. We resolutely set our faces toward college and homework, but apparently we didn’t have quite enough determination. A small sign claimed that a branch of the road belonged to LeTourneau. “Shall we take it?” Bolt asked.

As soon as we turned in, I gasped in awe. Before me lay the most fairy-taleish road I had seen. Cool East Texas dirt, brilliant wildflowers, trees bent over in a canopy, sunlight dancing in dozens of filtered patterns –beauty greater than I could have imagined.

I’m sure we saw something on that magical stretch of road, but I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention.

That section of road ended in a gas well, unfortunately. Then, we really did have to go back. As we walked, Bolt informed us of the various trees and flowers. We also got a good look at a beautiful Prothonotary Warble. Its bright yellow feathers stood out as it sang for us.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The learning continues...

Today was my third time birding. I met Bolt in the Thomas lobby, a few minutes late, much to my embarrassment. We drove out to Henderson, remaining silent for most of the journey.

We arrived at New Hope cemetery shortly after Jason. Bolt introduced us, and then we began birding.

Several trees near the cemetery were filled with all those little birds – Gnatcatchers, Chickadees, and Titmice. Bolt called me over and pointed to a distant tree. He directed me toward a Blue Grosbeak. I gazed in wonder, yesterday’s sighting not detracting from today’s in the least.

Two bird songs were more distinctive than the others. The first Bolt identified as a Sedge Wren. We searched for it but were unsuccessful. The second was an ascending buzz that belonged to a Prairie Warbler. After hiding for a short time, the bird decided to grant us a long and satisfying look. He perched on a tree near the roadside, singing loudly and flaunting his bright colors.

We drove to a bridge and watched as Cliff Swallows circled. Two scissor-tails perched on a power line, and a hawk lent us a brief glance.

We walked up and down the road for several hours. A brilliant red bird flew past, revealing itself to be a Summer Tanager. On a little tree by the road, we saw an Indigo Bunting. The bird was breathtaking – the deepest of blues. I still haven’t gotten used to seeing so many colorful birds in real life. Those are for storybooks; real life holds either gray or brown birds. The Indigo Bunting didn’t seem to know that, however.

As we were peering through our binoculars, two surveyors came up and questioned us. We weren’t very friendly – I didn’t even speak at all. I guess we forgot about good ol’ Texan kindness. Consequently, they were abrupt and left shortly.

A Pileated Woodpecker began climbing up a nearby pole. The bird was really incredible. It had a triangular-shaped red head and a black body. It jerked up and down as it walked. I would have enjoyed a close and long look at it.
After a few hours, the day became warm. I was hungry and was having trouble ignoring the pain in my leg. We left for school, gearing ourselves for the responsibilities of the real world.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Birds and a beaver

Bolt took me birding again today. Andrew came too. He knows much more about birds than I do. I feel like I know nothing.

We drove out towards Hallsville to bird. Indian Paintbrush, Coreopsis, and Crimson Clover lined the roadside. The day was cloudy, but patches of blue still gleamed through the clouds.

Bolt drove us to a place that had been strip-mined. It was a meadow area with recently planted pines. The road was a dead-end, so we rolled down our windows and drove slowly, keeping alert for any song. Bolt spotted an Eastern Meadowlark on the fence wire. It had a yellow breast and either a brown or a gray back. Its song was short and somewhat shrill.

Once we had climbed from the car, Andrew eyed the first bird. It was entirely blue, barring a slight discolor on its wing. We asked Bolt, and he said that it was a Blue Grosbeak, a summer bird. It was the first he had seen of them this year.

Walking around an old-fashioned church and graveyard, we saw plenty of mockingbirds, their vocal diversity amazing us and causing some quiet laughter. Among them, we saw several Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers. They were tiny little birds that looked much like mockingbirds. Later on, we saw Chickadees and Titmice flying with the Gnatcatchers. I couldn’t tell them apart. They are all light gray and small, seemingly bouncing from branch to branch.

Barn Swallows were abundant by the church. They were much smaller than I would have expected—dark, long-tailed birds. A Chimney Swift flew overhead, but not close enough to get a good look at it.

An Eastern Phoebe teased us with its phoebe call until we finally spotted it. It was a small bird with a thick beak. Unfortunately, many of the details are running in with the other birds.

Red-winged blackbirds were probably the most common in that area. They were solid black and each boasted a bright red spot and a yellow stripe on its wing.

As we were walking through the cemetery, Bolt thought that he heard a Northern Bobwhite Quail call. We looked and didn’t see anything, so we assumed that it was just a mockingbird. A few moments later, however, the quail went flying through the cemetery. Bolt was surprised; he said that they are becoming pretty rare.

Our drive to the next place lent us a glance at several big birds. We saw a Great Blue Heron soaring overhead, a group of Turkey Vultures sitting in a tree, and later, a smaller Green Heron. Eventually, we also saw a Black Vulture. Its head was bigger than the Turkey Vulture’s, and it had white on its wings.

The gate was locked at the next cemetery. We climbed over, but I tripped a bit. It was embarrassing and painful. My leg started burning; I don’t know what actually happened to it. Consequently, I had trouble concentrating for the rest of the day, although I ignored it as much as I could.

We went to a swamp-like area – dark, cool, and beautiful. We heard several birds, including a Carolina Wren, a Barred Owl, and Summer Tanager. A small pool was still and calm until, suddenly, we saw movement. The small animal swam slowly, and we speculated about its identification. Could it really be…? Then, it slapped its flat tail against the water. Yes, it was. A beaver.

Next, we wound our way down several country lanes. We got a close look at a Loggerhead Shrike. This time, I was able to see its thick bill and black back. Also, several Purple Martins were flying overhead. I didn’t notice anything really distinguishing about them, except that they were fairly small and that they were black. Yes, I know, very helpful.

On the way home, we stopped to look at bluebirds and cowbirds. Later that evening, we saw a Chipping Sparrow, and Bolt explained to us the difficulty in recognizing the many different types of sparrows.

The day was beautiful. I wanted to stay out all night. I think that might be one of the reasons why I like birding – it provides a legitimate excuse for being outside rather than being inside doing homework.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


I’ve come to know a birder. Through reading his reports, I’ve been introduced to a world that I didn’t know existed. Now, I want to be a part of that world.

Over the past few days I’ve been paying closer attention to birds than I ever have before. Yesterday, Bolt asked if I wanted to go birding on campus with him.

We began the day in front of Longview Hall. Bolt lent me his pair of binoculars and told me a few of the basics of birding.

I don’t know how many birds Bolt usually sees when he goes birding, but it certainly seemed like we saw a lot this time.

The first birds we saw were Mourning Doves. I’ve seen these before, although I didn’t know that they were doves. Overhead, we saw Chimney Swifts. They’re big and black. Bolt says that they are often referred to as “cigars with wings” because they have such thin bodies. They look somewhat like Swallows.

Next, Bolt directed my attention to a tree. I took a while getting my binoculars on the bird, but when I did, I saw a pretty little thing with a red head. It’s called a Red-bellied Woodpecker, although its belly really isn’t red. There were plenty of Blue Jays all around. They have harsh sounding calls and flop around clumsily in the air.

I think I knew I was hooked as soon as Bolt pointed to a bright yellow bird high up in a tree: a Goldfinch, he said. I’ve seen Cardinals and Blue Jays, of course, but beyond those, I’ve thought of birds as drab creatures. The Goldfinch proved me wrong. Later on, we saw a House Finch. This type was brownish with a red head. I liked it nearly as much as the Goldfinch.

We saw a Kingbird and a Loggerhead Shrike, and Bolt informed me of the shrike’s violent habits. Both birds were black and white. Like colored birds, this was new for me.

A Red-winged Blackbird was sitting high in a tree. I saw a red spot on its wing, but Bolt said that the yellow line under the red spot was all that was visible. I don’t know what that makes the red spot I saw then…

Starlings, Mockingbirds, Robins, and Cardinals were common. They gave me the feeling that at least I knew something, even if it was only the smallest bit.

We heard a squeaky call. The bird would repeat the call once and then switch to a new one. Bolt said it sounded like a Brown Thrasher, but the sound was coming from high in the tree. We eventually found the bird, and it was indeed a thrasher. Bolt said that he had never seen one that high before.

I would have enjoyed staying out all day, but I had class at 9:30. On the way back, we saw House Sparrows and a Barn Swallow.