by Patti Muzny
Just a few random bird experience thoughts and things I found memorable from the past:—
At the young age of 16, I managed to find myself helping my mother observe a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on its nest for a college refresher course at OSU. My first impression was not a good one – we sat for hours in weeds in the summer and we all know what lurks in weeds in Oklahoma in the summer – CHIGGERS! I experienced the absolute worst case ever because we didn’t have insect repellant. Our country home had no air conditioning and no fans. Decided my mother had to be nuts for sure!
Accidentally catching a Roadrunner in my warbler mist net. I remember well the condition of the net after this huge bird landed in it and rode the net tier to the ground that was littered with greenbrier bits twigs and leaves. And the Roadrunner was not very cordial when I approached and began to get it out. And then there was the time I netted nearly 30 Baltimore Orioles at one time. If you’ve ever had the experience of removing blackbird families from those mist nets, you could guess how long it took me to process them! Quite a pretty sight!
Sitting on the bank of Cave Creek in Arizona and looking over at a small bush that held a Painted Redstart and a Red-faced Warbler . We didn’t even have to take a mountain hike to find them. The real treat came when we came to a bend in the creek and nearly stepped on an Elegant Trogon that was bathing in a tiny puddle.
My first Albatross, many miles off the coast of Northern California, was another treat. Several of these beautiful birds landed behind our boat in pursuit of baitfish scraps that were being tossed into the ocean. Still wonder HOW these birds found that little bit of food in such a huge body of water. They literally appeared out of nowhere. From a blind on Puffin Island off the coast of Maine, we listened in fascination as we heard the Atlantic Puffins walking on the top of the blind and hopping along the rocks where they were nesting.
My first look at a family of Whooping Cranes on the Texas Coast: Unafraid of the tour boat, these beautiful birds fed in the shallows and seemed not to mind the admiring humans. On this same tour, I got to see what happens when a Great-blue Heron tries to swallow a catfish head-first and the catfish deploys its fins in the lock position. When the boat resumed its journey, this scenario looked to be a standoff.
If a Bittern swallows a lively snake then assumes the bittern’s typical “freeze” position while the snake is still in the process of being swallowed, the bittern is not very invisible because its neck is wriggling all over the place.
A chilly Broad-tailed Hummingbird female, trying to escape the rain and an amorous suitor, sought refuge between my feet while we were huddled under the camper’s canopy. The male was not deterred – he continued to perform his aerial stunts just beyond the toes of my hiking boots. I could feel the air on my ankles. My first hand-held Calliope Hummingbird was one of those unbelievable, almost spiritual experiences I will never forget. Ever feel the heartbeat of a hummingbird? Incredible! I could go on for pages and pages, but I’ll mark this to be continued…
Christmas Counts enable participants to experience many lifetime bird experiences and I urge everyone to give some serious thought to helping out this year – there are more than enough CBC’s from which to choose and they all need help. How about an albino Cardinal; a Merlin swooping down in front of you to grab its lunch; a Bald Eagle soaring overhead with a Golden Eagle; a porcupine lumbering across a wheat field; a flock of Hooded Mergansers; a Little Blue Heron where it should not have been in winter; a flock of Mountain Bluebirds; nearly a hundred Great-blue Herons huddled around Horseshoe Lake on a very chilly winter count day; sneaking up on a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker; finding a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in winter when it should have already gone south and the fellowship. Most of us have a “crew” that we count with and it’s always fun to get together and see what we can find each year. A lot of our time is spent with remembering past CBC’s in our territories and laughing about some of the great experiences and some of the crazy mishaps as well. Never a dull moment. Or if there is…it’s your own fault. Get out and CBC 2014!