Saturday, June 18, 2005

A day with the birds

Our home sprang to life at five o’clock this morning. My parents and four of my siblings were going to pick blueberries. I, however, was off to expand my knowledge of the birding world.

Lynn and I met in Benbrook and headed to Benbrook Lake. The name conjures up images of a morning sun sparkling on blue water, trees fringing the lake’s edges. Such was not to be our lot, however.

Despite its dearth of water, the park proved a pleasant place, aided by a cool morning breeze and cheery sunshine. Titmice buzzed in a tree at the park, and a small brown bird piqued our curiosity by lending us a few short glances.

We wandered over a small bridge and watched what we supposed to be a Phoebe play on a log near the water. The bridge spilled onto a golf course. There was no fence, so we entered. We watched titmice and soon identified the brown bird to be a Carolina Wren.

The golf course’s supply of birds was abundant, but we were soon informed that we could not be merely strolling around the green. The gentleman offered us a ride to the edge of the course, and, presently, we were treading on permissible terrain.

We decided to stick to the trail after that. Herons and egrets flew overhead, woodpeckers worked on a tree, and barn swallows circled a field.

After a brief stop at a campground, we made our way to the Fort Worth Nature Refuge. One of its attractions was a large window overlooking a courtyard of birdfeeders. Chickadees, titmice, blackbirds, and hummingbirds claimed this place as their summer home.

We spent a long time at the refuge. An unfamiliar bird turned out to be a Great-crested Flycatcher. We saw a Prothonotary Warbler near the boardwalk and many, many herons. White-eyed Vireos took delight in tormenting us throughout the day. We had plenty of opportunities to become familiar with their song but were only able to catch one brief glimpse of the bird. This perversity earned the species the new name of “Black-eyed Mockingbird.”

On the way back, we stopped briefly to enjoy the air-conditioned view from the picture window. This time, several painted buntings were visiting. The lighting was perfect, and we were able to enjoy detailed looks at the brilliant birds.

We tried finding several other places after we left the refuge. The esteemed people of Benbrook, however, do not seem overly fond of street signs, and we soon discovered the futility of trying to find our way around a town lacking these insignificant bits of metal.

We parted at five, after a tiring, but very pleasing day of birding. Our search yielded 33 species. Although some might question the success of such a number, I can’t be dissatisfied. We were, after all, two novices in summertime. The day provided plenty of opportunity for verifying songs and markings and familiarizing ourselves with other necessities of birding.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Everyday pleasures and momentous victories

Although I have not done any active birding of late, I have been observing and watching as often as I can.

My friends and I walk along the Duck Creek Trails in the morning. They talk and laugh, but I am in another world. The birds are performing for me. The Cardinal takes the melody. The chickadees and doves harmonize until the pervasive Mockingbird eagerly usurps the production.

I’ve grown up with the Blue Jay. I remember being a little girl, eyes wide with wonder, staring at this bright bird perched on the fence. The bird is no less magnificent today. Recently, I saw a family of blue jays. The two fledglings waited on a branch, tail feathers still short and only a bit of fuzz to serve as a crest. Both parents soon arrived, and the baby birds attempted squeaky imitations of their parents’ harsh calls.

Among these common pleasures, I have made several noteworthy discoveries. The first I owe to the Vice Secretary for Appropriate Avian Monikers. Her report sent me to Sibley to confirm a bird I had been wondering about for some time. It proved to be, like she said, a Common Nighthawk.

Another victory was in a bird I had seen several times while walking around the Duck Creek Trails. I hadn’t observed much about it, but still, after one walk, decided to see what I could find in Sibley. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron looked similar. Another walk granted the opportunity for further observation, and the identification was confirmed.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

With new eyes

I never would have imagined that my despised community college would prove such a copious haven for birds. I snatch any available moments each day to look at and enjoy the fauna on campus. Of course, sparrows, chickadees, grackles, cardinals, jays, and scissortails are always plenteous. The Western Kingbird was my most recent discovery. On Monday, I heard another bird to add to my ever-growing plethora of companions. Several birds exchanged shrill whistles from the rooftops of campus. I hadn’t brought binoculars, so I strained my eyes to observe this new species, resolving to bring my optics the next day.

Today I rushed out of class, the Romantics and their literature swirling in my head, and listened for the whistle. Success. I would soon be acquainted with another bird. I raised my binoculars and gazed. Striped throat, gray back, long legs. Grabbing my tuition receipt and a pen, I jotted down what I saw.

Then it flew. I caught my breath, all previous aims for merely checking a bird off of my list dissolved. The bird sailed, effortlessly, wings swept back in graceful ease. I saw a stroke of watercolor-white upon each wing and a flash of yellow on the tail. When it landed I admired more deeply the sharp black-and-white collar and the alert, vigilant posture.

Sibley said the bird was a Killdeer. I remember Bolt pointing those out on my very first day birding. For some reason, though, I have no recollection of the birds themselves. I remember a few birds grouped on the ground; my notes merely read, “The one on the ground. It had black and white stripes on the front.” Nothing remarkable. Nothing noteworthy. Today was different though. I don’t know what made the difference. I do know, however, that today I saw -- truly saw -- with my own eyes.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Another victim

The Master's influence continues to grow. Michaela confessed to me that she has been noticing birds and wondering about them. Of course, she is having the usual trouble with identification.
"I saw one the other day," she informed me. "It looked like a ... White-bellied ... Pigeon-hawk."

Perhaps we should ask the Vice-Secretary for Appropriate Avian Monikers about making it official.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Colored birds, at last

Having to wait for a ride home from class today granted me a few minutes to look at birds; I seized the opportunity. Eastfield College was alive with birds of all different sizes. Sparrows and Chickadees sang from high up in the treetops. Mourning Doves waddled on the ground. Great-tailed Grackles paraded around campus. I pulled my binoculars from my backpack and merely smiled at the puzzled glances of fellow students.

Then I saw it … a colored bird. Outside of Blue Jays and Cardinals, I hadn’t seen one since I left East Texas. I followed this one, hoping to get a closer look. I had never seen them before, I’m sure, but the campus today was teeming with the gray-backed, yellow-bellied birds. They flew from tree to tree, across parking lots, above the heads of sightless students, and even into nests. I looked carefully, taking in every detail I could.

I wandered toward the Motley graveyard. Downy Woodpeckers bobbed on the tree trunks, a pair of Blue Jays called loudly, a scissortail stood, stately and dignified, in a parking space, and several of the colored birds perched on the iron fence.

When I got home, I searched for the colored bird in my recently-acquired Sibley. I flipped through, looking for the general shape, and landed among the Tyrannidae family. A quick hunt revealed a bird I recognized. Every detail was the same – the yellow belly, the white breast, the gray head and back, the darker area around the eyes, the black tail with the thin, white edging. A Western Kingbird. My first life bird to identify on my own.