Monday, June 23, 2008

Mysterious White Birds

God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages. - Jacques Deval

I received a note last week from a friend who had seen what he thought might be wood storks. Now that would be news. The wood stork is an endangered species. The closest known rookery for the wood stork is near Sunset Beach, NC, just north of the South Carolina border. And the birds in question were observed in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Those wood storks of WNC join my long list of unsolved ornithological mysteries. Despite my interest in birds, I can’t presume to call myself a birder. That requires some innate talent I lack. A bona fide birder explained to me the differences between a red-shouldered hawk and a red-tailed hawk, which sounds obvious. But even when I got a good look at a hawk last week, I could not tell you if the shoulders or the tail were red. To me, it was simply a hawk.

The birders were always very helpful when I tagged along on field trips. “Look,” they’d exclaim, “in that oak tree. It’s a Prothonotary Warbler.”

I’d squint and scan the tree, not seeing any birds. Finally, I’d concede, “Where? I’m missing it.”

“It’s about a third of the way out on the second limb from the bottom. On the right.”

I’d squint some more and see nothing but leaves. Finally, I’d claim, rather sheepishly, “Oh, alright, NOW I see it.” But, of course, I never did see that warbler.

Despite my deficiencies as a birder, I enjoy watching birds, I enjoy listening to birds and I enjoy learning their life stories. Occasionally, I’ll see a bird so unfamiliar that I get busy trying to identify it. Sometimes, I figure it out, as in the case of an impressive black-and-white warbler that visited the feeder. Just as often, I come up empty.

Several years ago, I saw a white bird strolling about near my house. It was larger than the average songbird and had a little plume sprouting from the top of its head. It resembled a quail more than anything else. But a WHITE quail? I saw it a couple of more times that week, and after that, never again. My best guess is that it was a quail, but then again, maybe not.


On a cold evening several months ago, we were cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway and caught a glimpse of a small white bird in the woods near the edge of the road. It was enough of a glimpse to observe the bird darting from a tree stump to the ground and back again.

After I got home, I perused my bird books and came up with the snow bunting as a possible identity for the white bird on the Parkway. Maybe it was a snow bunting. Maybe it wasn’t. I’ll never know.

Last week, a story came out of Stanly County, NC concerning an odd white bird. It was, in fact, a bluebird: an albino bluebird, with white feathers and red eyes. Millingport resident Martha Thompson said, “I’ve been watching birds 50 years and have never seen one before.”
Getting a close look at such an anomaly is a just reward for Thompson, who maintains 15 nesting boxes and five or six feeders. State wildlife officials deemed the albino bluebird “quite rare.”

My friend’s wood storks, like my own quail and snow bunting, could remain unsolved mysteries. However, I’ve learned another lesson in birding from that Stanly County bluebird. The next time I’m puzzled by a strange white bird I’ll try to get a good look at its eyes, to see if they’re red. Then, I still might have trouble identifying the species, but at least I could tell you whether it’s an albino or not.

I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven. - Emily Dickinson

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BIRDS GONE?

I admit it. I love the water. Whether on Bear Lake, Santeelah Lake, Nantahala River or Fontana Lake there are no birds swooping over anymore.

Could it be the increased motor boat/power boat traffic? Could it be the horrendous noise our carbon footprint friends produce? It isn't bad enough that my kayak gets tossed from side to side because of their wakes. It isn't bad enough that I can't hear the birdsong in the trees because of the motors, not to mention the dead fish scattered about due to oil pollution.

I want the wilderness back. I want to see the birds swooping overhead. I want to hear the cataphony of birdsong.

It is time to designate specific areas for these noisemakers. Those of us who find delight in nature deserve to fully enjoy it. What about our rights? What about the rights of birds to swoop over our heads in all their splendor and glory.

WHERE HAS ALL THE CATAPHONY GONE?