Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Big Day Birding

Sunday afternoon, April 18, Fred and I drove first to Brubaker’s pond at the top of the hill west of Whitesville on Rt. 248, where I had been seeing three swans hanging out with a snow goose and a gang of Canadas for the last few days. They first time I’d spotted the huge white birds with my slightly aged eyes, I’d thought perhaps they were sheep. Then I’d opened the new issue of the Conservationist that morning to read that the state had released Trumpeter swans at Montezuma refuge in 2011 and I had to have a closer look. The Trumpeters were supposed to have highly visible green tags on the wings and have legs bands as well. I consulted my Sibley’s Guide carefully on the slight differences between Tundra and Trumpeter swans (Trumpeters have more evenly rounded backs, a longer, straighter bill with never any yellow on lores, and the yearlings tend to be grayer). There they were—still contentedly grazing. Fred stayed back while I moved as close as I could, pausing to study them through my binoculars, until they finally got uneasy and lifted up to circle the fields. The snow goose was the leader and it was stunning to watch the four big birds flying low, the hazy late afternoon sun illuminating their white feathers. We saw no green tags on the swans, though their bills were very black and their necks quite gray. In any case, I haven’t seen many Tundras and it was the best view of a snow goose I’ve had.

Next, we went to Brown’s marsh and were treated to a loon, a small flock of female hooded mergansers, a lesser scaup (?), a kingfisher, and a handsome great egret fresh from the sunny south. Another big, white bird! In the ditches I saw many painted turtles and frogs peering out of the muck, and in the shallows near the parking lot a huge snapping turtle was hanging out sideways, its shell looking like a discarded tire. Fred was sure it was dead, but I saw the head come up once and a foot thrash a couple of times. (The next day it was still there and I thought I could see another shell of similar size under it—a lengthy interlude of springtime snapping turtle bliss?)

Even without driving down towards Genesee to see the new eagles’ nest again, it had been a good outing. Then coming home over the hill from Independence, we spotted a big bird in the middle of the road. A very large, brown bird. An eagle? A turkey? AN ENORMOUS BIRD! What the . . .?

Suddenly we realized it was the escaped emu which has been wandering the country side this spring. It wasn’t very shy. In fact, it allowed us to slowly draw abreast of it, much to the consternation of our little Jack Russell, Georgie. I could have tossed her out the window onto the giant bird’s back, but I held tight—I’m told they pack a powerful kick! It was fascinating to watch the huge, leathery feet as they flattened and contracted with each step, the vast, meaty (and delicious, I’m told) thighs and drumsticks working as it paced slowly along, the heavy, shifting mass of grayish feathers rustling on its back, and its enormous, brown dinosaur-like eyes with their incongruous fringe of eyelashes—wary and reptilian, staring back at us. Dye it yellow, give it a sweeter disposition, and it could have been a visitor from Sesame Street.

A very big bird day indeed!