Birds! Birds! Birds!

Whew! Back from Florida—well, back yesterday, but I spent most of yesterday catching up on e-mail and wandering around the garden going “Yay! You’re alive!” and shoveling mulch.  (The mulch did not catch fire in our absence!)

Today it’s rainy and grey and I can’t do yardwork. Sigh. But there is plenty of Dragonbreath to get done!

The trip itself was awesome, got to hang out with great people, do Disney with the Steins, and talk birding with a very knowledgeable woman named Tina, who was about to set off in pursuit of the Fulvous Whistling Duck. She suggested that we visit the Merritt Island Wildlife Sanctuary, so a couple of us, driven by the ever-patient Kevin, set out in search of birds.

We got lost on the way—turns out that this wildlife sanctuary is right next to where they launch the space shuttle, and there were some closed roads—but we finally hit the correct areas, and then we wandered around with binoculars going “Ooh! Ooh! Heron! Egret! Gator! Red-winged Blackbird!” for several hours. They had every heron in the book, from the little green on up, tons of egrets and ibises, ospreys every ten feet—it was really amazing.

For lifers, I got the Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, Swallow-tailed Kite (a really amazing bird—I thought it would be smaller!) Glossy Ibis, and most impressively, Alison spotted a Sora in the reeds, which is a wee little marsh bird that picks its way along the edges of the water, and you pretty much need eyes like a bird of prey to be able to spot the little bugger.

Sadly we missed the Painted Buntings at the visitor center, but there were Rufous Hummingbirds, enough Red-Winged Blackbirds to drive you crazy, and Brown-Headed Cowbirds going gurgle-gurgle-click! over and over again.

Adding those to the Black-bellied Whistling Duck and the Redhead I had gotten the day before, it would have been a fantastic bird trip ANYWAY, but on the drive home, we saw both turkeys and Sandhill Cranes standing by the side of the road. (I’d seen something I thought was a sandhill crane on my last trip, but it was such a brief glimpse I wanted a better confirmation before I counted it.) This time, however, they were both just standing by a street light, going “Look at us! We’re cranes!”

And then, as we drove through the South Carolina lowcountry…two Very Large Birds went over the car. We were on a heavily wooded stretch that had just broken for a bridge over a stream, and I looked up through the windshield, and my first crazy thought was that it was a pair of the aforementioned Swallow-Tail Kites, because of the stark black and white undersides, but then I immediately dismissed this, because they were so bloody obviously cranes.  I mean, they were HUGE. And they were very white, with black legs, and their wingtips were black and the black extended partway down the wing, and there was a flash of red from the head.

Did I mention I was driving? I was. Kevin very graciously did not grab for the wheel, because I’m sure I started weaving wildly trying to get the last glimpse of the cranes before they passed overhead.

Hmm. The sandhill cranes we had seen were a sort of…French gray, I’d say. These were WHITE. Almost certainly still the Sandhill cranes, but I had Kevin pull up photos, and while there were some very white ones, they didn’t have the stark black wingtips. (Tips is really an understatement. There was quite a lot of black.)

Well. There’s really only one other option, being that this is North America. I dismissed it for a few minutes as Batshit Insane—aren’t those things endangered? And not just a little endangered, but, like, REALLY endangered? And did they live anywhere near here? Surely they had no business buzzing my car!

We switched drivers, since my mind was clearly NOT on the road, and I went through the photos, and then through Google, which informed me that yes, the South Carolina lowcountry has recently seen the re-establishment of very small populations of none other than the Whooping Crane. (Locals keep seeing them the same way I did, and saying things like “Holy crap, that bird’s bigger than my Buick!” ) And it’s not like a bird that size is easy to miss, and I suppose even an endangered species has to be SOMEWHERE at any given time. I just didn’t expect that somewhere to be over the top of my CAR.

…I tell you true, humans are sufficiently perverse that I was almost disgruntled by the whooping cranes. I mean, I’m delighted they’re there, that’s just stupidly awesome, it’s arguably one of the great success stories of bird conservation, but damnit, I should have to WORK for a bird that rare! We WORKED for that Sora, and they’re a species of least concern!

Also, I think there was a con thing and I had fun and there were nice people.  And a pair of Whooping Cranes flew over my bloody CAR. I may never get over this.

  • reply jdc ,

    I remembered when I had my first sighting of herons and cranes….kinda like 747’s at sunset. Though the cranes were pretty amazing. Working on archaeological dig just off the Columbia river during the summer and hearing the sandhill cranes flying and taking a lunch break a few yards away.

    Oh the the pair of cranes that took residence in a town near my parents who like to set off the motion detector on the door of the doctor’s office.

    • reply Wolf Lahti ,

      I’m pretty sure I threw this quotation at you before, but it fits well here, so…

      “The conservation movement is a breeding ground of communists and other subversives. We intend to clean them out, even if it means rounding up every birdwatcher in the country.”
      —John Mitchell, US Attorney General 1969–72

      • reply Hawk ,

        I wouldn’t get over it either. WHOOPING CRANES!!!

        Great Blue Herons are freaking scary up close, too. One was in our BACK YARD. (This was back when I was in high school, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.) I don’t know how rare they really are for that area, but for me…huge bird was huge. Also very blue. He left me a feather 😀

        Never got over it as you see!

        I feel lucky enough just to have a mated pair of Red Shouldered Hawks living like, across the street from me. No herons this far north in the state though, at least not that I have seen or heard about.

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