Bird brained stories!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Adventures in Birding, Part II

Deciding that it was time for me to move on, I headed back up highway X52, stopping off in Lansing to check out a certain Yellow Bird Arts shop. Well, she does have bird-themed items throughout her utterly cool store. Having promised myself "no new fabric" until I finish my current project, I managed to get out of there with a mere Fat Quarter, cool thread for my current project, a magazine and a pattern. I just love that shop!

However, this is supposed to be a post about wild birds, not errant birders run wild in quilt shops. Having allowed myself just enough fun, I was back on the road, heading for the border of my natal state. Traveling along the riverside, my eyes caught movement--significant movement--in a small backwater just off the road a few miles north of Lansing. For those who are not from "around here," it might help to understand a bit about the Mississippi River as it appears here. Growing up as I did in Minneapolis, just a mile from the river, I thought I knew all about it. Ha! When I first moved here, just 150 miles downstream, I couldn't believe it was the same river. When I first saw a barge in the middle of the river, I couldn't imagine what that artificial floating island could be. By the time they'd locked up to St. Paul, they'd separated the barges, impossible as it was for them to be hooked together and lock through the narrowing channels.

Around here, it can be hard to say just where "the river" actually starts. It can be a mile across at points, that mile encompassing small estuaries, sloughs and small channels. Sometimes these are called "lakes," as in "Lawrence Lake." This place where the significant movement was spotted was one of these small ponds, with a slice of land separating it from the larger backwater channel. Pulling off the road, I realized I could jump the tracks--ah, brought me back to my youth!--and crawl around for a closer look. What had caught my attention was a raft of Northern Shovelers. A regular convention of them, flashy males all decked out like a bunch of Shriners in their fezes, accompanied by their better halves. In the sunlight that had returned, they made a striking picture indeed.

After crawling around and taking note of the various birds, I continued on. Not much further up the road, I could see drifts of white, HUGE drifts. Thinking I was looking at the swans that gather, I pulled off, only to see that instead, it must have been at least five hundred American White Pelicans. They were restless, paddling about, scooping up food, then flying off, always just a bit further north.

Pelicans just crack me up. Always have. They swim about, trying to achieve that same regal elegance usually credited to swans, but look at them! Perfectly designed to do what they do, scoop up fish from just below the surface, they strike me as comic strip birds. This little cluster was doing that circle thing, where they swim in tight little circles a few times before one of them gets an idea in its head and leads the rest of them on some indeterminate pathway.

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Just a little further up the road, one could spot a Bald Eagle, standing watch over his mate on the nest. Hundreds of coots, dabbling ducks and some Canada Geese, along with the occasional Great Blue Heron, created a tableaux of nature before me. All the calling and singing filled the air, so long quiet through the cold months of winter, delighting me with its long-forgotten familiarity. It will soon become quiet again, as these birds move on, spread out or raise their young. I enjoyed the nature pageant before leaving the River Road, to head into the woods.

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