Bird brained stories!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Birding abroad!

Unlike birds, who can fly freely, I've recently returned from three weeks in the United Kingdom, traveling as I have the previous three summers overseas with a bunch of teenagers as a delegation leader for People to People. Unlike birds, because I had to remain onboard a grounded 737 for 5.25 hours at O'Hare, awaiting a shift in the wind direction.

I'd debated bringing along my binoculars. After all, this wasn't a birding trip but one designed to promote international understanding for American teenagers. Still, it was a huge temptation. I did bring along Peterson's Field Guide to Birds in Britain and Europe, and before long, my mantra became, "If only I'd brought my binoculars!" So much so that no fewer than three kids pointed out to me binoculars for sale in the gift shop at the top of Cairngorm in Scotland.

So, it wasn't possible for me to bird seriously, and I heard many more birds than I could hope to identify. This being my third trip to the United Kingdom, not all birds were new to me, but some were, like the Lapwings seen at the aforementioned Cairngorm, and a family of Great Crested Grebes at close range while whitewater rafting on the River Tay. Of the birds I enjoyed watching, I'd have to say that bird of nursery rhyme, the Jackdaw, besides being almost as ubiquitous as the gulls, was the most entertaining. Gathering in enormous flocks, their raucous cries echoing along the hillsides, they gave me hours of enjoyment as I spent my evenings supervising homesick students lined up at the streetside payphones in North Wales.

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Though I wasn't able to be a serious "twitcher," it still added to my enjoyment and observation of new surroundings. Since I didn't know many bird songs and calls here, I could only sit back and enjoy the music, reminding me that I'm a stranger in this land, the music foreign to one who can bird by ear back on home soil.

The kids made fun of my little obsession, as teenagers are wont to do, until they watched a mother Black Duck and her duckling. The duckling did one of those fast leaps across the water to catch up, making everyone on our raft laugh in delight at the antics. As the giggles died down, I simply said, "See why I do this?"

Birds that I did manage to identify, the starred ones being Life Birds, were:

Grey Heron
Pied Wagtail
Herring Gull
*Bonaparte's Gull
Mute Swan
Black Duck
*Great Crested Grebe
Ring-Necked Pheasant
Carrion Crow
*Common Sandpiper
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
*Common Moorhen

Also seen on the ferry were some kittiwakes and shearwaters that I couldn't identify more specifically, simply marveling at birds that live at sea. Perhaps the lesson I learned by leaving the binocs behind was that enjoying what I could see has value far beyond that of some arbitrary list. Instead of worrying over "which warbler," I simply enjoyed the color and song of birds I knew simply as "English warblers in the mulberry at the Bishop's Palace."

Oh, and the mulberries, in spite of staining the heck out of our fingers? Absolutely divine! I give my thanks to the birds of England for leaving a few for us to relish!

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