Most of my birding is done near my home. The word “near” is of course used in its relative sense as my travels sometimes take me hundreds of miles from the place my heart resides. But those regions that lie to the east of the Rocky Mountains are mostly avian terra incognita, patiently waiting for me to correct my priorities and wander, a stranger in a strange land.
Good fortune brought me to Lake Erie for a few days last week. Opportunities to enjoy the area’s wildlife were not as abundant as I might have liked, and yet the area was rich with birds, many familiar but not all. A northern cardinal, as red as the rising sun, called from a tree near my window each morning. Eastern wood-pewees, eastern towhees, and field sparrows sang at first unfamiliar songs. Red-shouldered hawks and turkey vultures rode the winds. A bald eagle flew purposefully west one evening, a still struggling fish clenched tightly in its yellow talons.
A great egret determinedly worked the banks of a large pond along a quiet road. Elegant, graceful, beautiful, it was the epitome of concentration as it moved through the water carefully, quietly, utterly ignoring the Canada geese that carried on around it. Every now and then it froze, peering intently at something only it could see, and then it resumed its prowl. Suddenly it lunged, nearly disappearing in haunch-deep water. After a brief commotion the bird emerged, struggling. It vigorously beat the water with its wings several times before it managed to return to a shallower, safer place. A tiny bit of piscean fin protruded beyond the edge of its bill.
The shadows are long. The sun sits low in the west. I check my watch and realize I have spent well over an hour watching the egret hunt. Frogs croak, hidden in the grasses along the pond’s edge. Swallows wheel and dart above the water, through the warm, moist air of a perfect evening. Reluctantly, I start the car. The geese honk and fret but the egret is focused, thinking only of dinner. I find myself wondering if the cardinal will call for me again, as another day begins.