Friday, May 19, 2006

Bugs and Birds

Fly fishers and birders have a lot in common. One thing is that we go on vacations, or enjoy days, when there are an abundance of bugs around. Earlier this week in Cleveland we had one of those days. Since I couldn’t be fishing, I made the most of birding. It was one of those days in May when we get an enormous hatch of insects out of Lake Erie. Not being an entomologist I’m not sure what the creatures are—other than abundant. People call them everything—some names not suitable for a family blog.
They’re called midges, muckleheads and pains-in-the-butt. Birds call them lunch. My office window was covered with them so I knew the birding would be good. At noontime I headed to a nearby green space. I stood in one spot and watched one tree. Along with the usual suspects, I had 16 other species of birds. Notable among these was a single brown thrasher, 41 blackpoll warblers, two black-throated blue warblers, three chestnut-sided warblers, three veerys, two hermit thrushes, seven Baltimore orioles, two orchard orioles, six ovenbirds and more. Sorry no partridge, but then it was a sycamore, not a pear tree.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Busy is as Busy Does

There we were, face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball (well, not exactly) with a wild beast. Its dark shape loomed directly in our path. Susan and I were literally stopped on our tracks—sort of. Its beady eyes occasionally glanced at us; assessing us as a potential meal I figured. We, in turn, were more curious than terrified.
Without saying a word we glanced at each other when the creature flashed its orange-stained incisors. They were huge! Yet, here was this magnificent animal, chocolate-colored fur gleaming in the twilight, quietly coming to dinner. How did it maintain such a wonderful coat on a diet of dandelions?
What did it see when it took our measure? We watched the animal glide effortlessly through the wetlands pond. This is a favorite spot of ours in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, walking along the railroad tracks just north of Station Road Bridge. From the tip of the animal’s rounded muzzle, back nearly to its undersized ears, it was covered with duckweed. The neon-green colored weed contrasted with the brown fur, giving the animal an other-worldly appearance.
It maneuvered to the pond’s edge. It was now less than 25 feet away. We held our breath. Prothonotary warblers and red-headed woodpeckers darted about, vying for our attention. As it emerged from the water its size astonished us. This guy was at the upper end of its species-average (30-inches long and 40 pounds) for North America.
As the beaver slowly munched on the vegetation, I could not help but think about the boys with Lewis and Clark from the Corps of Discovery. Numerous mentions are made in diaries from that adventure describing how tasty the beaver’s tail was. To me, it looked like a deflated automobile tire—21st Century thinking I suppose.
Occasionally the beaver raised on its haunches to its full height and looked at us. What did it see? Two bipeds, one mostly blue with a flesh-colored topknot; the other purple and blue with a black topknot. Did it care to separate male from female? Both aliens would appear to have huge eyeballs, perfectly round and cylindrical in shape, black in color.
The beaver watched us; we watched the beaver. It didn’t care; we were enthralled. Eventually it made its way back into the pond. It cruised about 15 feet and stopped for dessert of moss and bark from a tree stump. Maybe the most fascinating part of this close encounter of the furred kind was that as the beaver removed the bark from the tree, it made no noise. We had expected, having seen numerous piles of chips around beaver-felled trees, that it would make plenty of chopping sounds. Woodpeckers of all species—particularly pileated—sound like thunderstorms compared with this guy.
It seemed to pry the bark from the tree, making an eight-inch diameter shield-like design. Then, off it meandered toward some raucous Canada geese, hardly living up to its billing—busy as a beaver.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Heat Impacts the Brain

A break in the business action gave me a free afternoon in the Orlando area. Wildfires prevented me from heading for the beach area so I opted for some inland birding at Kissimmee Lake State Park, twice selected (and the only facility to receive the honor) as the nation’s most admired state park.
It’s a cool place. Well, cool in the sense that it’s hot. Err, hot meaning heavily frequented. On this day in early May, it was hot in the sense of temperature, actually, not people. In fact, I saw few other humans in the park. I guess the 94-degree temperature with humidity off the charts kept the slugabeds in their air conditioned houses and cars. Only truly dedicated birders, three of us, were out there pishing in the bushes.
As I approached the entrance to the park I was welcomed by a pair of sandhill cranes with two juveniles. The little ones were 25% body and 75% legs. Young sandhill cranes look like footballs balanced on bent card-table legs. They were all gleaning bugs out of a roadside ditch so I moved to the left to give them plenty of room. I stopped opposite the quartet and one adult looked at me as if to say, “So, what did you expect?” One juvenile approached the car, stuck its head nearly into the open window and looked at me like a dog looks at a ceiling fan.
After walking about three miles, spotting a variety of birds and other animals, and consuming a gallon of water, I decided to sit in the shade and let the birds come to me. The plan worked. Coming across an open space I spotted a tom turkey dressed in full regalia. This guy was the definition of “strut-yer-stuff.” I could not figure out who he was showing off for until I spotted the dark silhouette on the edge of the field—also in the shade.
He bobbed and weaved, tail flaring, turning and twisting. He spun around so many times I thought he’d screw himself into the ground. If birds could sweat this dude was in a lather. And the female? Not interested. Too hot for sex, seemed to be her message. Finally she perked up and stepped out of the shadows to have a closer look at Prince Charming and his finery.
Poof! Old Tom imploded. I’ve seen balloons at birthday parties stay inflated longer when stuck with a pin than this guy did. I thought he had been shot at close range with a silencer-equipped rifle. I focused on his hoped-for-intended and understood. Seems that it was a black vulture, not a hen turkey.
Have you ever seen a bird sulk? He, too, headed for the shade.