Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some fowl musings

I love this time of year. And one of the things I love about it is the increased activity of birds in the area. (And as a cyclist, I probably get more exposure than most folks.)

Are you familiar with the call of the MEADOWLARK? It is distinctive and beautiful. When I'm headed out someplace like Gowen or Pleasant Valley, I'll often skip the mobile tunes* in the hopes that I will hear a meadowlark. (When I was a little fella, we had meadowlarks in the neighborhood. My mom and dad told me the meadowlark was singing, "Ste-vie is a pretty-little-boy." Hahaha! Even back then, I was probably skeptical, but I sure learned to love that song.)

I am totally amused by the antics of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS. They are coming back... perching on the stalks of cattails and tree branches, near the marshy areas that they prefer. They are beautiful; they, too have a distinctive call, but not nearly as melodic as their lark relatives. Once nesting time is underway... WATCH OUT! They are aggressive little rascals - if you get too close for comfort, they'll dive-bomb you like a WWII Stuka! (I've frequently appreciated the bike helmet - because it has saved me from blackbird attacks!)

The ducks and geese are particularly beautiful this time of year. My waterfowl-expert friend Tom explained, "In the early spring just as the breeding season gets underway a partial loss of feathers happens when the male ducks put on their alternate plumage. Right now, the birds look their best and are in their BREED Plumage…"

Mackie and I were feeding the (Canada) geese and (Mallard) ducks down at the park a few days back, when along came some AMERICAN WIDGEONS (thanks, Tom!). They're much
smaller than mallards, and have a distinctive sky-blue bill, and whistle instead of quacking. But then along came a WOOD DUCK, and suddenly all the other ducks seemed pretty drab by comparison. If I was an atheist, I think I'd become a believer just because of how beautiful a Wood Duck is.

The other day, I was out motorcycling in the flatlands. (It's still pretty stark and barren out there... we need another month for everything to turn vibrant and green.) BUT... out in an otherwise-empty pasture, there must've been five thousand birds - most likely STARLINGS - 100 feet or so from the pavement. As I rode alongside them, their totally-amazing performance began. The leading edge took to the air, with the rest following, leaving the ground in perfect synchronized harmony with my ride-by. After they were airborne, they dipped and fluttered - thousands of birds performing in unison as if they were taking radio commands from a master choreographer. (How do they do that?!??) As far as I know, I was the only witness... and how grateful I am to be witness to such things!

* Note about mobile tunes: I'm VERY cautious about compromising my sense of hearing while cycling. It's a dangerous thing to do, when you need every advantage to survive. But every now and then when I'm riding on a nice, straight stretch of road with light traffic, I'll pay extra attention to the rearview mirror, and indulge in some favorite music.

The images were harvested off the Web. Hopefully the originators won't be offended that I used 'em for my non-commercial blog. As always, click on (some of) 'em for a larger view. (Wouldn't Mr. Audubon be amazed at digital cameras with long telephoto lenses!)

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