Saturday, October 12, 2013

Field work

Yesterday was a foundational bird-watching experience. I travelled to the Volkswagen campus near Chattanooga to find a White-faced Ibis.

Source: Alan Vernon,
This is an image of the bird in its summer plumage, when the white is visible on its face. In winter, it's identical to the Glossy Ibis except for its red eye, usually only discernible with a scope or excellent camera.

Four potential White-faced Ibises had been spotted and photographed, most in juvenile plumage. The red eye was visible in the photos. I did manage to see all four birds, but I would not have been able to positively ID them if I hadn't already known what to look for. I only saw them in flight.

Bird-watching takes me to some unusual places, and this time was no exception. The birds had been sighted near a pond on Discovery Dr, a road too new for my GPS. The city was constructing a new water main next door, so to get to the pond I had to walk over fill dirt and bracken and past the worker busy flattening the new dirt with his bobcat.

I approached the pond slowly, nervous about scaring the birds away. I stopped each time I had a glimpse of the pond, then peered around the edge of the line of bushes. Nothing but killdeer. I found a place to sit where I could see most of the pond and be shielded by the tall grasses, and there I sat for two hours.

That was the foundational part. Just sitting and waiting. It's hard to slow down and just observe. I found I kept checking my iPhone or my bird book. I had to force myself to enjoy the temperate October weather and the pleasant sound of bird song.

Patience was harder because I saw the birds early in the sit. About 10 minutes in, one ibis flushed from a grassy field (I also detected a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the tall grasses). About 30 minutes in, I saw 3 ibises fly overhead. So, task accomplished but greater view desired. Hence, the wait. They never came back, but I did see an additional 16 species, including a Gray Catbird and a Belted Kingfisher, two species I find fascinating.

This was a life-bird for me and an unusual bird to find in Tennessee at any time, so it was worth the 90-mile drive. I regret not having a better view, which I would have gotten if I had stayed an hour longer. Overall, this experience's greatest value was that it forced me to slow down and focus on something fun.