A bit of snow for Christmas

2005 December 22
by David J. Ringer

OSAGE CO., OKLA. — All the other birders had gone, leaving the two of us together.

She kept her head turned away, only occasionally swiveling her white face toward the road. Her deadly bill was almost concealed in soft white feathers, and she squinted her eyes nearly shut. Her body was heavily barred, and the fallen tree beside her cast its shadows across her bulk.

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.

Meadowlarks and Horned Larks foraged among the cow paddies between her and me. When I’d first arrived, the friendly birder who pointed her out had casually mentioned Smith’s Longspurs. What? I kept hoping they’d appear.

I’d moved down the road a bit and was refocusing my scope when I heard a sweet twittering behind me. I whirled. Smith’s Longspurs? I had no idea what they sounded like, but maybe that was it!

No buffy passerines. I looked up into the blue, hearing the sound again. Bald Eagles. Three of them, circling together in the sunshine. Twittering. Wow.

I looked back across the pond, wondering whether I’d have spotted her on my own. She blended in beside the log, so different from the white garbage bags that had made my heart pound earlier that day.

A flock of little birds landed in the mud beside the water. I whipped my scope in their direction, scanning the edge and trying to focus at the same time. They blended in perfectly; I couldn’t see a thing. Then, just as I made out the outline of a small brown songbird, the whole flock took to the air again and disappeared over a rise.

I found it difficult to leave the Snowy Owl. She looked my direction one more time, and I wanted to believe that she saw me. She looked the other way, then resumed her original posture. Indifference? Exhaustion? I was not privileged to understand.

COPAN LAKE, OKLA. — A Bartlesville birder had advised owlers to swing by Copan Lake and see the White-winged Scoter. My northeasterly course took me on through Bowring and right past Copan, but the gate to the park was closed. The reservoir was fairly large, and I couldn’t imagine how I would see the scoter anyway.

But a pull-off on 75 looked inviting, and after a moment’s hesitation, I swung in. Still sitting in my car, I scanned what water I could see over the treetops. Gulls … and something black. OK, better get out of the car.

I set up the scope, and, scanning across a handful of goldeneyes, found the black duck. I strained to see what details I could, and I could almost imagine a tiny white eye patch and an orange bill. But perhaps it was just that — imagination. I wish birders with a better scope would show up.

It wasn’t immediate, but it wasn’t long either. A little pickup pulled up, and I saw the occupants looking through the windshield with binoculars. When they got out, I quizzed them about their intentions and their optics. I told them I thought I’d found him.

The man brought over his scope, which had a digital camera neatly mounted over the eyepiece. He offered to let me find my bird. The first dark bird I saw was decidedly not a scoter. It was then I realized I’d forgotten to consider other options, like cormorants.

As my stomach sank, I looked up to scan with my binocs, and I was relieved to see that the scope was pointed too far right. Panning left, I picked up the bird. “Aha!” I said in triumph.

They both had a look, and they let me look again before I left. I had to be on my way.

I’d seen white-wings on Cape Cod, but the snowy was a lifer. I was tempted to stop for ice cream, but that tradition isn’t much fun alone.

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3 Responses
  1. Courtney permalink
    December 23, 2005

    Wow.

  2. Lynn permalink
    December 24, 2005

    You found her! That’s…man, I wish there were a better word for “good.”

    Keep a rain check on that ice cream. It’s cold enough to keep.

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