Just the other day I was grumbling about the hot summer? How did it get to be December already? If I choose to be grumpy, I could be grumpy about the cold, but I actually like most of winter. December provides wonderful excuses NOT to go Christmas shopping because I have Christmas bird counts to do. My only regret is that there are so many counts and so little time.
This year Brian and I will kick off the CBC season with our own OKC Audubon CBC on December 17th. We have stalked winter birds in every kind of weather imaginable over the past 30+ years. A particularly memorable one involved Jim Bates. He was a novice birder and we invited him to participate with us. The temperature was hovering in the single digits and the north wind was howling. Of course, we were near water – the Cofferdam area of Lake Overholser, and I think it must have been 20 degrees colder with the wind blowing across the water.
The plunging temperatures had caused a thin skim of ice on the standing water around the cattails and edges of the lake. Jim had joined us wearing dress slacks and shoes and a light-weight jacket. We heard some birds and piled out of my SUV and began to tromp along the edge of the lake. The first thing Jim did was step out onto a little ice and break through, nearly loosing his balance. Single digit temperatures and wet dress shoes and socks don’t make for very pleasant birding experiences, but Jim declined to bail on us and seek out dry footwear. It’s a wonder he EVER went winter birding again, but this story has a happy ending – Jim (and his son, John) persevered and became a valuable part of our birding community.
Another CBC found us birding in tee-shirts with friends and their two young boys. Young boys (two of my godchildren) are almost as effective as bird dogs when birding vast expanses of grassland habitat. They were rambunctious and eager to help, so we had them run like little jackrabbits all over that field while we counted what they flushed. Worked like a charm! What ever became of these young boys? One is an executive chef for the Secretary of State in Washington, DC, and his brother is the proud father of two beautiful children in Manhattan.
CBC’s can produce lots of surprises. One CBC, done in the now-developed area of Memorial Road and County Line, surprised us with a Little Blue Heron that was hiding in cattails at the end of the lake on the property. When we first started doing CBC’s, the homes that are now below Lake Hefner Dam were just a design on paper with no homes yet. We were birding in the newly-paved subdivision roads when we found a Long-Eared Owl. Ernie Wilson just happened to come along and find us and he had his good camera to back us up. That was a lifer for me and for Brian.
Right after Max Fuller joined OKC Audubon, he was invited to join Nancy, Brian, Jimmy and me to count the birds around Crystal Lake. That particular morning it was bitter cold and a snow event had deposited several inches of precipitation that had thawed a little the day before and re-frozen. The ground was frozen and slippery. Add a wind strong enough to rock a full sized SUV and it was NOT FUN out birding, especially downwind of water again! Nancy and I formulated a brilliant plan and Jimmy and Max momentarily fell for it. We suggested he and Max hike around the lake and we would sit in the SUV and write down anything they told us over our walkie-talkies! It worked…they hiked and we wrote and a particularly brutal gust of wind blew Jimmy off of his feet and he landed unceremoniously on his backside. He probably wouldn’t fall for that again!
One day this past week when it was raining and icy cold and generally a dreary, disagreeable weather day, I turned into my driveway and saw a beautiful blue flash sweep down in front of my vehicle. It seems our resident Eastern Bluebirds are still with us and are probably using the bluebird house for a winter roost site.
May everyone experience many wonderful birding days, a few CBC’s and a Happy New Year.