Spring Migration Bird Contest Second Place
The clock read 11:30 a.m. I was curled up on the couch flipping through the latest issue of Nature Friend, when the Spring Migration Bird Contest caught my attention. Eagerly I read, excitement growing. Why not try it? I jumped off the couch and ran upstairs. I grabbed my binoculars and camera.
On my way out the back door, I glanced at the forsythia bushes. Sure enough, there was the normal gathering of sparrows. I used to think we just had “sparrows,” but once I started studying my bird book, a whole new world opened to me. Quickly I identified one Song Sparrow, two Savannah Sparrows, and four House Sparrows. That gave me a good start.
Up by our barn I saw a starling in the tree where he often perched, and I heard the raucous call of a crow. I leaned against the smooth barn wall, waiting.
My mind began to wander…which friends would I invite to join me in this bird search? It would be fun to have some birds from different places on my list. Suddenly, I thought of my pen pal in Peru. I would ask Felipe Martin! Who else liked birds? Maybe my Uncle Moses. It was fun to have an uncle close to my age— although he lived hours away.
Deciding to look elsewhere, I headed to the maple tree. I was pleased to see a Red-winged Blackbird. I love their bubbly call! I always watch for them each year—my favorite first sign of spring! Over the next few minutes, I heard several more birds and saw my first flicker for the year.
I decided to check my eleven bluebird boxes. My brother and I built most of them this spring, hoping to attract more bluebirds to our property. I was very glad to see that six of the houses had a pair of bluebirds near them. They are some of my favorite birds to observe. A Carolina Chickadee also took up residence in a bluebird box. I discovered they build their nests out of the softest mosses.
Wandering on, I heard a raven go squawking by and saw a Red-tailed Hawk circling. I pulled out my list and added these new birds. Before I even put it away, I heard the cooing of Mourning Doves. This was really exciting! I had no idea I’d see so many birds so quickly.
Tired, I sat down on our picnic table and waited. A few minutes later I heard a cardinal. Could I find him? With a flash of red, he landed in a tree right beside me. I listened to his chirping—was he calling for more seed in our feeder? My stomach growled. I decided it was time to head in for lunch.
After lunch, I helped with dishes (not my favorite chore, but I guess since I like to eat I shouldn’t complain!). Then I took a few minutes to e-mail, “Dear Felipe… Do you happen to like to bird watch…?” That accomplished, I flew back outside, eager to continue my search.
Running around the side of the house, I startled a group of Slate-colored Juncos. A Blue Jay scolded. I plopped down on the grass and saw a dark silhouette soaring above me. Was it an eagle? No. “V” for vulture, I remembered, noticing the characteristic slant of his wings.
I heard a beautiful song coming from the black walnut tree and saw a bird I didn’t recognize. I snapped a few pictures so I could look him up. The beautiful red on his head and breast later helped me identify him as a House Finch.
After chores, I asked my brother to go with me to the creek, hoping to spot more birds. Linville Creek is home to an incredible number of interesting birds. Moving here two years ago was a dream come true. My father grew up near its headwaters, and many of our ancestors walked these same banks.
On our way to the creek, we looked up into the Great Horned Owl’s nest and saw the pair of these magnificent birds. That was neat, since I rarely see them. I hooted as loudly as I could, and they looked at me! Excitedly, I called over and over! They kept swiveling their heads, and Samuel got several pictures.
Scrambling over the fence, I landed inches away from a snake. “Hey Samuel!” I cried, grabbing the groggy snake and playfully tossing it into the air. Samuel just grinned.
As we snuck toward the creek, I was not disappointed to see a beautiful pair of Wood Ducks launch from the water. Hearing the wild honking of Canada Geese, I looked up to see a pair of them winging their way down the creek.
We wandered along the path by the creek until we heard the shrill call of a Belted Kingfisher. We stopped to watch him swoop away down the creek. Did you know that they nest in holes along creek and river banks? I keep hoping to discover where our pair nests.
Later that evening, I ran up to the barn and heard the trill of a Screech Owl. I froze. Soon I could also hear the hooting of the Great Horned Owl. It was so lovely, I could hardly pull myself away.
I woke up early the next morning, glad it was Saturday. I grabbed breakfast and ran outside with my camera. Hearing the warbling call of a Baltimore Oriole, I followed the sound to the forsythia bush. I was so glad to see him back! Last year a pair of these orange and black beauties hung their woven nest just 200 feet (60 m) from our porch.
I decided to see if I could find some warblers. I was fascinated to read in the April Nature Friend of their spring migration. Walking leisurely down the road, I saw a Yellow Warbler. It bobbed on a branch within a few feet of me. With slow, cautious movements, I pulled out my camera, but it flew away too soon! Before my search was ended, I caught a glimpse of a Yellow Rumped Warbler and got a nice shot of a brilliant Prairie Warbler.
On my way back to the house, I noticed a Bald Eagle soaring. He lives along our creek, so I often get a glimpse of him. I wandered along the creek, shivering. Just then a few flakes of snow drifted through the air. I could hardly believe it! I was ready for spring, not snow!
Soon I saw a Great Blue Heron standing patiently in the creek, waiting for his lunch. He looked cold, too! I thought of Uncle Moses, enjoying a week with Great-Grandma Howe in Florida. I shivered, half wishing I was standing in the warm sun with him, watching Sandhill Cranes bob along on their long toothpick legs.
The tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker jarred me back to my cold reality. I looked up into the trees along the creek. There was a Red-bellied Woodpecker hammering away. I added him to my list, the thiry-fifth bird species I spotted in twenty-four hours.
It was 11:30, and my search was over. I walked back to the house with my heart overflowing. What an amazing Creator God we serve!
Thankfully, the fun wasn’t over yet. Soon I got an e-mail.
“This is Melvin, not Felipe…”
How interesting! I learned it was my pen pal’s brother who liked birding! My excitement grew as I read down through his bird list.
Amazilia Hummingbird, Croaking Ground-Dove, Mountain Parakeet, Saffron Finch, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Peruvian Thick-knee—I hadn’t even heard of some of these birds!
As we e-mailed pictures and stories back and forth, I realized I had made a new friend!
In the days that followed, Uncle Moses and I enjoyed several more phone calls. Even spry, 91-year-old Great-Grandma had helped spot birds. The neatest thing to me was that Cousin Nathan, who really loves birds (raising everything from peacocks to myna birds), had joined them. Nathan spent hours pointing out over thirty of Florida’s native birds. What’s more, he had stories about nearly every one!
The contest is over, but my birding friendships are only beginning!
Thanks, Nature Friend!