Birder 86

2005 May 9
by David J. Ringer

WEST CENTRAL and SOUTHWEST MISSOURI — Our young, intrepid Birder 86 hasn’t even been home 24 hours when he gets an offer he can’t refuse….

12:02 a.m. — Birder 13 arrives at the home of Birder 86. 86 bids his family goodnight, and they go in to bed. 86 and 13 zoom off into the night.

01:42 a.m. — A small town, fast asleep, in western Missouri. 86 and 13 spot the first bird of the day in the deserted Wal-Mart parking lot: It’s a Killdeer.

01:45 a.m. — While still casing the deserted Wal-Mart parking lot, 86 hears the second bird of the day: Common Nighthawk.

02:01 a.m. — 13 and 86 sight the Chief’s silhouetted figure through a first-floor hotel window. A toothbrush protrudes from his mouth, and he appears to be repacking his suitcase. He finally exits the hotel (a few minutes late for the rendezvous, notes 86), and the squad drives over to Wal-Mart so that the Chief can pick up Killdeer and nighthawk. Check. Check.

04:08 a.m. — A Barred Owl’s throaty hoots penetrate the silent marsh. The birders have ticked Northern Mockingbird and startled a few herons but have not heard a single rail or bittern. 86 begins to believe that they all should have stayed in bed.

05:42 a.m. — Light gradually dissipates the black night, and songbirds erupt in a chorus of song. Tree Swallow, check. Wood Thrush, check. Swainson’s Thrush, Acadian Flycatcher, pewee, indigo. Check, check, check, check.

06:21 a.m. — Sunrise on the prairie. Henslow’s Sparrows hiccup, Dickcissels chortle, Sedge Wrens sputter. Check, check, check. Distant, haunting whistles of a Greater Prairie-Chicken. Check. A Harris’s Sparrow hops up in the brush. Check. Good bird, awfully late, the birders exclaim. Grasshopper Sparrow, flat head, high trill. Check. Bell’s Vireo, talking to himself in the bush. Check.

7:42 a.m. — A Palm Warbler is sighted in a patch of willows, which also teems with catbirds, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers, and a blackpoll or two.

8:10 a.m. — The birders’ hopes for shorebirds have dried up — literally. But they do find several Black-crowned Night-Herons roosting in thick shrubs. With the herons is a suspicious-looking white duck with tan patches. 86 at first mistakes it for a Cattle Egret and is duly embarrassed.

8:28 a.m. — Four Snow Geese. Check.

9:00 a.m. — As the Chief speeds down the highway, 86 makes a tally and discovers that, despite some defeats, the squad has already ticked over 100 species. The Chief radios 13 to report the news.

9:17 a.m. — Two Clay-colored Sparrows are discovered in the yard of an empty house. One of the birds flies up into a large oak tree and sings with a voice like a chain smoker.

10:10 a.m. — The Chief spots a Common Loon just below a dam. The bird is a youngster in drab plumage. 86 watches it take off; it runs across the water for many yards before it achieves liftoff. An Osprey flies by. Check. Check.

11:23 a.m. — The birders have wasted over an hour in a fruitless search for Upland Sandpipers. The dirty fugitives do not show — it’s the old hide in the grass trick. The squad pulls out of the neighborhood in disgust, picking up a small flock of Bobolinks on the way.

12:25 p.m. — A Barn Owl’s pallid figure haunts the dark recesses of a nest box. A ghastly youngster appears near the hole — white, scrawny, bony. The squad retreats.

12:53 p.m. — 86 sees a small bird fly into a tree. It hops out into the open: Painted Bunting. 86 and the Chief both see him, and they hear a second one sing. Check. They proceed quickly to the pickup point to meet 13.

1:24 p.m. — Rock Pigeon alone atop a billboard. Check.

1:26 p.m. — 13 points out a nest in a tree just off a busy expressway. It’s a Swainson’s Hawk, he says. He watched them build it. A plain brown head is barely visible above the rim. Check. 86 privately disapproves — the head could have belonged to just about anything, even a muskrat.

1:36 p.m. — Another nest, this one over a quiet, dead-end residential street. The creamy yellow crown of a night-heron is just visible. Check. 86 approves.

1:47 p.m. — Eurasian Collared-Dove on a wire in a train yard. Check.

1:59 p.m. — The Chief and 13 drop off 86 at his house. 13 will peel off soon too, leaving the Chief to continue alone. He is still missing Great Egret and a Downy Woodpecker.

2:33 p.m. — 86 is on his way to the doctor. He needs a few upgrades for his upcoming out-of-country assignment.

Naysayers call them insane. They prefer to think of it as dedication. Tireless, fearless dedication.

Stay tuned for scenes from the next Get Bird.

Related posts:

  1. Wondering how to be a birder
  2. A Birder’s Year: January-April
  3. An adolescent
  4. New songs, ancient dances
One Response
  1. Lynn permalink
    June 9, 2005

    I dunno why it took me so long to get to reading this, but I wish I had done it sooner. You’re hilarious, you know that? It makes me want to sign the “Make the Get Smart DVD” petition again and again. (I did that, by the way. There’s a website for everything.)

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