This morning, while waiting with Miss Phoebe for the school bus, I had a rare thing happen. I added a new bird to our property list. Since buying this 80-acre chunk of old farm and woodland in 1992, my (lovely and talented wife) Julie and I have kept our eyes and ears on alert constantly for birds. I am not sure what our first bird was for the property--perhaps a northern cardinal since we moved in late in November of 1992. Until this morning, our property bird list had stood at 181 since November of 2004.
Just as the school bus pulled to a halt, I spotted a small V of birds, accompanied by a single larger bird. My first impression was that it was a flock of starlings doing its entropic best to thwart a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk. But something was not right about that ID. Then it hit me! Those are SHOREBIRDS! I shouted something inane to Phoebe as I dove into the van for my car binocs, a pair of Swarovski 8x32s. Totally ignoring Sue the sweet bus driver, with whom we always chat as we put the kids on the bus, I focused on the mystery flock, now disappearing behind the trees about 150 yards away, headed north.
"Black-bellied plovers! and a....rock pigeon? Yeah baby!"
Then it sunk in--Julie had elected not to come out to the bus this morning. No way to get her on the birds, our driveway is a quarter-mile long and cellphones do not work here in the boonies. She'd have to learn about it second-hand.
This was the second time that Phoebe and I had added a bird to the list out near the end of our driveway. Our #179 was a flock of tundra swans, in a snowstorm, as I was driving Phoebe into town to my parents' house. Phoebe said "Daddy, are those geese?" Eight tundra swans were just 50 feet overhead. I slammed on the brakes, slid into the neighbors hay meadow, leapt out of the van with my binocs and promptly fell squarely on my keister on the ice. Pulling myself up by the door handle, I got the binocs on the swans and, once I caught my breath, I shouted with glee and congratulated Phoebe on her mad birding skillz.
Here are the last 10 species we've added to our property list.
#173 Eurasian collared dove (3/25/00) seen as a birding tower fly-by by Julie. Not accepted as the first state record for Ohio, but accepted on our property list without going to some pointy-headed records committee. Jim McCormac still has Julie's documentary painting submitted with the (rejected) sighting.
#174 Golden eagle (3/29/00) seen by both of us (and videotaped by me) from our birding tower. A beautiful bird, showing the juvenile's tell-tale silver dollars in the wings, and dwarfing the local red-taileds that escorted it off our ridge.
#175 Sedge wren (5/8/00) Seen during our Little Big Day that May. Nature videographer Steve Maslowski was with us when we found the bird, from our birding tower. Its song gave it away.
#176 Black duck (12/22/00) A flyover that was long overdue.
#177 White-winged crossbill (4/15/02) A one-visit wonder to our birdbath. Seen only by Julie, but her digital photos of this female finch proved that she was not hallucinating. She also passed the drug test administered by me later that day. I was bummed to miss this one.
#178 Black-crowned night-heron (10/13/02) A flock of six, at dusk, our last species on the 2002 Big Sit at Indigo Hill. It just proves that when you are thinking about quitting your Big Sit, you should stick it out just a few more minutes. Several of our birding pals were present for this new list addition.
#179 Tundra swan (12/5/02) A species I expected to add at some point. Then Phoebe got it for us!
#180 Common raven (3/15/03) Julie and her artist pal Cindy House added this one to the list after hearing a raven's croak twice. If we doubted the record, our pal Wezil Walraven from Arizona, heard and saw another one in 2005 while sitting in our front yard.
#181 Saw-whet owl (11/09/04) Julie, Shila, and I were in the tower, digging a really great showing of the northern lights, when a saw-whet owl called three times. We know from our pals who band saw-whets, that November is the peak of this species' migration through Ohio. How many years we hoped for this species!
#182 Black-bellied plover (5/18/06) After seeing these beauties, I thought back to my first ever black-bellied plover--my lifer. It was in a muddy plowed field (now buried under a Lowe's) along the Ohio River. It was viewed through Pat Murphy's ancient and murky Bushnell Spacemaster scope. Pat showed me so many lifers, and taught me a ton about birds and birding. It was because of her that my family got into bird watching...and the rest is history.