Christmas Bird Count: Counting in a haunted land

2010 December 15
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — Two screech owls answered me, whinnying softly from the trees as Venus shone with piercing brilliance and the last few Geminid meteors burned themselves out in the early-morning sky. Great Horned Owls called in pairs as the east turned red: one voice high, one — the female’s — low.

I love Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.

I didn’t mind starting in 25-degree weather, nor wandering around in the dark somewhere I’d never been. It was a special somewhere — somewhere that used to be called the Singer Tract. But assigned to cover the western edge of the circle, my team touched very little of the bottomland hardwood forest now slowly regenerating in Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge and Big Lake State Wildlife Management Area.

Instead, we birded the hedgerows and cotton fields, which harbor even less life than corn fields, and certainly no Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. But one day, not so long ago….

Ah well, perhaps it’s no use feeling sad. The Killdeer — our most abundant bird — seemed content (or, at least, as content as Killdeer ever do seem), and two Palm Warblers flitted through scraps of vegetation in a ditch.

On a drive down one forest road, we encountered a Barred Owl, who peered out from the brush with inky eyes. I can never quite shake the feeling that these birds must be very ancient indeed, and that this creature knew a time before the forests were cleared and so much life disappeared. Here’s to a brighter future, wise one.

Barred Owl

Related posts:

  1. Cajun country Christmas Bird Count highlights in pictures
  2. Christmas Bird Count 2009-10
  3. Counting Canvasbacks and cormorants
  4. Final moments in a beautiful land
  5. Not everyone is bound to the land

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