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.


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