Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Weekend Birding

I've been enjoying the opportunity afforded by my leave of absence from grad school to return to a favorite activity - weekend birding.

Last weekend, we went to a national wildlife refuge about an hour from home.  I had woken up with a headache, which I treated by drinking a cup of caffeinated tea.  (The best thing about not drinking caffeine regularly is that it is really effective when I do use it medicinally, generally for headaches or tiredness or both.)  I was also in a very irritable mood, and unfortunately it was exacerbated by the tea, which left me with jangled nerves.  I was so irritable that my very irritability was extremely irritating.  It took me about 10 minutes after arriving at the refuge to calm down enough to even want to look at birds.

Only a few minutes after we got underway on one of the hiking trails (with me still feeling irritable but not like murdering anyone), we saw a magpie fly past us, close enough that it was obviously a magpie without even having to think about it.  This was really cool, but ... wait, there aren't magpies around here.  Confusing.  We soon were inundated with loud, raucous blue jays (an external manifestation of my mood?) and I thought, Maybe that was a blue jay we just mistook for a magpie for some weird reason.  Whatever.

We actually saw a good number of species on the trail, and gradually the weather warmed and I switched from complaining about being slightly chilly (which I usually like, actually) to being way overheated.  The sun was fierce.  I desperately had to pee and did so on the side of the trail, managing to pee on my own shorts in the process (DUH), yet another source of irritation.  (Although I do think peeing on one's shorts is preferable to peeing in one's shorts, neither is that great.)

Just as we reached the end of the trail, there was a man and woman with two dogs standing there.  One of the dogs (a small one, of course) was barking at us like crazy, and the woman was telling him to be quiet, to no effect on the dog (though it made me feel less irritated to know that she disapproved of her dog being a maniac).  I had a strange but wonderful thought as we approached these creatures:  What, you want a piece of this, little dog?  I could totally kick your ass.  When I mentioned this to Robert, he said, Isn't he just the right shape and size to be a soccer ball?  The idea of being able to take this dog did wonders for my mood, in keeping with abundant research on social comparison theory which finds that downward social comparisons (comparing yourself to those who are inferior on a relevant dimension) leads to self-enhancement and an increase in subjective well-being.  (Interestingly, recognizing the total bogosity of comparing my bad-assedness to that which was, at best, a 10 pound dog did not appear to undo the beneficial effects of this comparison, though at this point, I was also feeling generally amused.)   The man showed us a small bull snake he had caught in his cap to photograph, and that was really cool and cheered me up, too.  I was also cheered by the fact that we were moments away from sitting in the car with the A/C cranked up.  (In the event, it felt better than I even thought it would.) 

We had brought our lunch and went to the HQ building to look for a picnic table, which they did not have.  However, on the bulletin board outside there was a poster asking people to call or email the refuge staff if they saw a magpie on the refuge.  In my strange mental state, this struck me as completely hilarious and I laughed hysterically for an overly long period of time (I noticed this as I was doing it but Robert refrained from comment).  When we got home, Robert looked it up online and found out that a magpie has been seen intermittently for the last year or so, including a couple times last month, if I recall correctly.  So, it probably was a magpie and we just got incredibly lucky to see it. 

Tam's Favorite Bird Says "Hey"

After eating our lunch in the car, we were game for seeking more birds so we went out on the other hiking trail.  Within minutes, we saw ..... American tree sparrows!  Life bird #479.

After that, we didn't see a lot of birds.  When Robert mentioned the lack of birds, I decided to surprise him with an unexpected "goose."  (He was walking in front of me, so this was an irresistible opportunity.)  In the next second after goosing Robert, I shrieked.  He turned around and said, What?  I said, Oh my god, a snake.  He looked over at the side of the trail where a striped snake was visible in the grass.  I said, No, it was in the middle of the trail and I almost stepped right on it; I must have scared it away with my shrieking.  Robert hadn't seen it at all due to being distracted by the goose.  (I'm glad he didn't step on it while distracted; the poor snake doesn't deserve this kind of treatment.)  I asked Robert what kind of snake it was, and he didn't know, and in one of those moments where you have a thought but no idea why, I said, Maybe it's some kind of garter snake.  When we got home, Robert looked it up and it was a kind of garter snake (eastern garter snake).  If you'd asked me what a garter snake looked like, or if I had ever seen a garter snake, I cannot remember this at all, but maybe I have more familiarity with a garter snake that I realize.  Or maybe garter snake just sounds like a normal kind of snake, a prototypical kind of not-obviously-dangerous snake.  It turns out there aren't many different kinds of snakes in this state and none outside the southeastern corner of the state that are poisonous.  Having grown up in the land of the rattlesnake, the cottonmouth, and the copperhead, I find this really strange.

Depressing side note:  You know how the word "decimated" means reducing something in number so only 90% of the original amount remains - what is the term for reducing something so only 0.02% remains?  This is what we've done to the tallgrass prairie, according to information they have posted about their ongoing attempts to manage land on the refuge for oak savannah (oaks with an understory of tall grass and prairie flowers).

1 comment:

mom said...

Congratulations on the American tree sparrow! Only 21 more to go to get to 500.