The day that felt like two

2005 November 26
by David J. Ringer

GREENE CO., MO. — A loud shot cracked as I opened my car door. I was not encouraged.

I began to scan the lake, and I could see the duck blind on the opposite shore. Nearby, a decoy’s plastic wings rotated ceaselessly in the wind.

Great, I thought, there won’t be much to see — LOONS! Yes, there were two loons, bill to bill. They both looked like commons to me, but with reports of Yellow-billed and Pacific loons from elsewhere in the state, I decided to scope the birds.

The wind coming off the water was quite cold, and my body’s involuntary reactions to this shock complicated the scope retrieval and set-up procedure. When I finally did get it ready, the wind had begun to drive tears from the corners of my eyes. Combating these setbacks as best I could, I scanned the silver surface of the water.

No loons.

I finally relocated one, but it never stayed up for long. It was hungry, and it was diving.

Continuing along the shoreline, I got out of my car a short while later. A small woodpecker flew into a tree above me, and when I saw its slender profile and long bill, I thought it must be a sapsucker. Sure enough, a brownish immature popped from behind a limb. Farther away through the oak trees, I saw a young Red-headed Woodpecker.


Dark trees on a gray morning.

A loon flew high above the lake, with its strange hunched back and long, trailing feet. Then I heard the red-head chattering and the plaintive mew of the sapsucker. Their voices were joined by the hearty chuckle of a red-belly.


Cold wind rushed over the water.

Bluebirds and juncos were abundant, the latter scattering before my car as I proceeded slowly over the gravel roads.

Three small shapes caught my eye as they swam away from the shore. Horned Grebes!

I reached the east end of the lake without having seen a single duck. A sparrow hopped in the brush near the parking lot. It was a Song Sparrow. I waited a moment, and as the song flushed, a larger sparrow flew in. Gray head, bright reddish uppers — a Fox Sparrow! Though silent at first, the bird began to give its loud, thrasher-like call. I thought the sound was so sharp it echoed, but when the bird in front of me stopped, the distant sound continued. As the bird hopped higher in the brush, it called faster, then faster. I left it to its fussing and walked toward the water.

A pair of Hooded Mergansers was waiting for me there, along with 15 or 20 Pied-billed Grebes and a pair of goldeneyes. The mergansers were distant, but in the scope I could see the male’s golden eye. He kept his spectacular crest tucked modestly. The goldeneyes disappeared before I was able to scope them, and I could not figure out where they had gone.

The remains of a Great Blue Heron lay on the rocky shore. All I saw were the wings and part of one leg. I could not figure out what could have torn up such a large bird, snapping its bones and carrying the rest away. I hoped it hadn’t been a human, but it didn’t look like that. What about an eagle? I don’t generally think of them as being so ambitious. Perhaps the heron had already died?

I headed back to my parents’ house to help out with some yard work. By early afternoon, the sky was free of clouds, and the temperature had risen into the 60s. It hardly seemed like the same day.


Trees and sky glow in the sunshine.


The hollies and liriopes bore heavily this year. I think the robins and bluebirds will appreciate the feast they offer.

Once I looked up and saw two cormorants flying over. That was a first.

I kept an official yard list here from Feb. 23 to Dec. 26, 2000. In those 10 months, I recorded 71 species — and my rules were strict. If it was a yard list, I reasoned, then the birds had to be in the yard. Not flying over. Not in the neighbor’s yard. In our yard.

The first bird on that list is Mourning Dove; the last is Northern Mockingbird. In between is the story of a birder’s genesis: Cedar Waxwing, Vesper Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo. Harris’s Sparrow. Loggerhead Shrike. I didn’t count the Snow Geese, the Wood Ducks, or the oft-heard Great Horned Owls, and I couldn’t have counted the cormorants. They weren’t in the yard, you see.

But I don’t live here anymore, and today I moved the seed feeders from the spot where they’ve been since 1999, the spot outside the window of what was my room. I moved them to the back porch so my parents can enjoy the birds through the winter days, and as I did, I couldn’t help thinking sadly about my current “yard” in Arlington — and the still-untouched seed bell whose fruity odor has long since dissipated.

The chickadees found the seed and water before darkness fell. My mom called me into the dining room, and we watched chickadees and then titmice bathing, drinking, and gleaning the seeds I had scattered on the ground. A creeper inspected the base of an oak a little further out, and chickadees’ calls easily penetrated vitreous barriers as they danced just a few feet away. Dad came to watch too, and mom could hardly contain her excitement.

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One Response
  1. Cindy M. permalink
    December 6, 2005

    great list! you travelled through some of my old stomping grounds. I spent my childhood with my Grandparents in LeFlore Co, OK and my Mother still lives in Sequoya Co.. Oklahoma is beautiful :)

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