2005 March 30
by David J. Ringer

EAST TEXAS — The LeTourneau Ornithological League has a new member! That takes us up to, um, four. Spence is a freshman who will succeed me as managing editor of The YellowJacket next year. I was surprised and delighted to find out he was interested in going birding. I had thought LOL would cease to exist (at least at LETU) upon my graduation. That’s still possible, but at least there’s hope now.

Anyway, I was up by five and picked Spence up about 10 till six. It was light, and birds were singing, but the sky was thick with early-morning clouds. As we drove east, I tried to go over some important points with Spence. I was surprised how remote my own early days of birding seemed, but I do still remember early frustrations, challenges, and victories.

We made good time to the iron bridge road in southwest Harrison County. We slipped through the gate and started down the familiar (to me) red mud road. Many species were singing, though none seemed very interested in being seen. As I identified song after song, I worried that I was completely overwhelming Spence with strange names and constant shifts in attention.

Spence isn’t used to binoculars yet, and he had a hard time following the rapidly moving small birds as they bounced from limb to limb or skulked deep in the brush. I had forgotten how much my ears supplement my birding experience, and I probably would not have noticed the uncooperative behavior had I not been trying to get Spence good looks at the birds.

With patience, we made progress. Spence found a singing Carolina Wren himself. A Song Sparrow came out and hopped along the edge of the road. Spence was able to get binocs on a kinglet and a nice male yellow-rump eventually. The yellow-rumps were in all sorts of plumage — from nearly full breeding colors to drab winter brown. Some were blotchy in-betweens. All of the white-throats were messy too. Their head pattern was barely recognizable.

Cardinals, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and White-eyed Vireos were singing all along the road. Thrashers proved fairly numerous. The thrashers and vireos were characteristically hard to see, but it seemed even more frustrating today. I saw a couple of Orange-crowned Warblers. Meanwhile, a few cormorants flew overhead.

We made our way to the bridge and discovered a small flock of white pelicans on the water. They took flight our approach but settled back down a little farther out. They are huge and commanding birds. We watched them drop their feet and coast to a stop on the surface of the water. We briefly turned our attention to a Great Egret and a couple of Barn Swallows. Then, the pelicans moved out from behind a clump of bushes, and I saw that they had found a school of fish. They moved together in a line, driving the school ahead of them, sticking their heads down underwater and snapping up the fish. Their teamwork resulted in what appeared to be a good breakfast.

I saw a pair of Wood Ducks and a pair of Blue-winged Teal flying over the water, but not much else was visible. We moved on and found more yellow-rumps and White-throated Sparrows. I heard a Prothonotary Warbler singing, but Spence saw him before I did. A pair of Cedar Waxwings low in the shrubs afforded us excellent looks. They are chic, classy looking birds, though they behave like college students. Singing Yellow-throated and Pine warblers allowed me brief glimpses, but Spence didn’t get to see them. I assured him he would eventually.

We turned around at the first gas unit past the bridge. Gnatcatchers, apparently late risers, were vocal and active as we walked back, and a couple of Black Vultures flopped overhead. A noisy Eastern Kingbird swooped out over the water, snagged a dragonfly, and gobbled it down after returning to a utility wire. One White-eyed Vireo finally cooperated enough to give Spence a brief look. Titmice and Hairy Woodpeckers called and showed themselves only briefly.

Migration is underway, but it’s still early. The buntings, orioles, hummingbirds, and many other warblers have yet to arrive. I told Spence all about them and assured him they would come.

We got back almost in time for Spence’s 9:20 Bible class. He said he had fun, and I think he’ll come with me again. I believe birders are born, not converted, and they must wait to be discovered. I’m hoping Spence has been discovered. His life may never be the same.

Related posts:

  1. A road less traveled
  2. Swallows and scissor-tails
  3. The curtain call
  4. A nice beginning, interrupted
  5. Debauchees

Comments are closed.