Bird your way home

2005 November 28
by David J. Ringer

CHEROKEE CO., KAN. — Why drive a road you’ve already driven when there’s still more of the world to see? Especially if the road in question is a toll road? I veered off abruptly at the last free exit on I-44, just before the Oklahoma border. Before I knew what was going on, I saw a sign welcoming me to Kansas.

I turned off on a small farm road and found myself among lowing cattle. I startled a flock of juncos and two meadowlarks, and I saw a Killdeer at the edge of a pond. A phoebe called.


The cows seemed baffled by my presence.

Back on the highway, I crossed a river and turned off into a small park. I didn’t see anything on the river, but on the other side, I saw Bonaparte’s Gulls flying over a raised pond. Deciding I needed to check that out, I went back over the river and pulled up to the gate of the pond, which turned out to be a sewage lagoon.

Dozens of the dainty white gulls danced over the water, and I saw a Bald Eagle flying in the distance. When I stepped out of the car, I was hit with a blast of icy wind, and I startled a flock of Buffleheads from their position against the bank closest to me. Most of them took off and flew further out into the pond, joining dozens of Common Goldeneyes and Hooded Mergansers.

The wind was very cold, and very strong. I decided the scope wouldn’t help me much, and I couldn’t concentrate for long. I got back in the car and drove around to the other end of the lagoon. I saw some shovelers but decided to keep moving.


I didn’t see anything on the river itself, though a bluebird and a goldfinch moved about in the brush.

DELAWARE CO., OKLA. — A harrier flew over the short grass right beside the highway. I keep scanning the fields, but no Snowy Owls. Just lots of white plastic bags.

TULSA CO., OKLA. — I’d seen Surf and White-winged scoters, but I hadn’t seen a Black Scoter yet. But I checked the Oklahoma birding list before I left Springfield, and I saw one reported from Lynn Lane Reservoir near Tulsa. I decided to go for it.

When I got to the reservoir, I found a small parking lot and a set of stairs leading to the top of the dike. I got out of the car and felt the same cruel wind I’d fought in Kansas, and I watched a few tiny ice pellets bounce off my windows.

By the time I made it to the top of the berm, I was already freezing, and the wind had whipped my hair into a wild frenzy. The water came right up to the walkway, and a few Ring-billed Gulls knifed into the wind, sailing over dozens of ducks and coots. The raft of ducks closest to me was comprised mainly of scaup, though there seemed to be a few Redheads and ring-necks mixed in.

Far away, I could see scores and scores of other ducks, and my heart sank. The wind lashed the water into a choppy expanse of whitecaps. Birds bobbed up and down, up and down, disappearing and disappearing again.

I almost turned back, but I decided not to let a little wind beat me. I propped my scope against a post, realizing that it would be of little use under the circumstances. I could end up with a black eye if I tried to use it. I shoved my hands into my pockets and walked west, leaning into the bitter wind. After all, it’s a Black Scoter! What a story this would make, the story of my life Black Scoter.


Ducks bob on the choppy waves.

To my surprise, the ducks did not much mind my presence. As I neared another raft, I could see many goldeneyes, and one Canvasback.

But no scoter. I tried, I really did. I noted the peaked heads of the scaup. I tried to scan a very distant, very large mass of duckish bodies. I even saw two eagles perched far across the water.

I finally turned back, scanning as I walked the way I’d come. A truck came by and stirred up the ducks. They streamed over the water by the hundreds. Incredible.

One Pied-billed Grebe. More scaup. Coots.


Cold wind drove wavelets against the cement wall.

By then, my face was numb, but my hands were in serious pain and had turned an ugly red. I fumbled for the scope and hurried down the dike.

OKMULGEE CO., OKLA. — I was headed south on 75 when I saw a sign saying something about a National Wildlife Refuge and a boardwalk. I turned left at the next available street and started working my way back toward where I thought the refuge would be.

I noticed a burned field, and I hoped for longspurs. But as I continued down the gravel road, I realized that this had not been a controlled burn. Acres and acres were blackened. Small flames still burned in some places, and smoke hung in the air. Houses had been saved, but only barely by the looks of things. The radio’s classical music was a chilling soundtrack to the unearthly scene before me, and I shut it off quickly.

The parking lot for the boardwalk was in an area untouched by the blaze. Deep Fork NWR, said the sign. I didn’t see the refuge on my map. I didn’t see another soul anywhere, and I didn’t see any sort of headquarters.

The trail led into lowland woods, and I heard chickadees and cardinals calling. The boardwalk was very nice, but it was cluttered with fallen twigs and limbs, some of which were large enough to trip me. The whole place looked rather abandoned.


The boardwalk stretches into the forest.

A Golden-crowned Kinglet called from somewhere, and White-throated Sparrows were abundant in the brush. Two Red-headed Woodpeckers were noisy, and I heard but never saw a Pileated Woodpecker. The crows were upset about something.

I was uneasy — my car was unattended, the trail felt surreal, and there was that terrible fire. I hurried back to the parking lot to be on my way.

A few crows scavenged the charred landscape as I returned to the highway. I wish I could come back in the spring to see the vibrant green life that will cover these scars.


Fire-blacked ground and trunks.

THE METROPLEX, TEXAS — Why drive a road you’ve already driven when there’s still more of the world to see? Well, it’s a nice philosophy. But if you aren’t careful you will prolong your trip by several hours, and you may end up wandering helplessly around the Metroplex, tired, crabby, and ready to be home. But you will have seen more of the world, and you will have a story to tell.

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2 Responses
  1. tank permalink
    November 29, 2005

    I wonder if that fire was the one I could see from Gainesville. We’ve been having fires all over from the wind. I got to see 3 ducklings yesterday.

  2. November 30, 2008

    “Why do we long for fellowship with creatures so different from ourselves? I wanted to see the places she had seen, and see them through her eyes. I wanted to travel with her, to see the journey she had taken, to feel the drives that had pushed her so far from home. But perhaps my wishes were too dreadful.”

    I always love visiting your blog. Somehow in the past I had overlooked this fantastic piece of writing. You are remarkable in so many ways. I was just in the Peruvian Amazon and one of the first birds I saw was an Eastern Kingbird. Rather than lament my first bird being a species from back home — I pondered this exact thought you had above – oh to have seen the things this bird had seen on its journey back to South America.

    If you are ever back birding in Oklahoma I would be delighted to just carry your scope!

    Best wishes,

    a beginning birder

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