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I'm Just Sayin' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

Nature walk

I am no bird watcher. I will be the first one to tell you that. Trust me. You will not see me perched in a tree for hours with my binoculars. I think my patience has been regularly decreasing as I get older, so I pretty much have the attention span of a first-grader.

But I do love a good challenge, so I guess you could say I accidentally became a bird watcher … for approximately 30 minutes, and that was even pushing it!

My mom loves to take our dog on walks every day around the fishing pond in Holyoke. You’d be amazed at how much wildlife can be seen between my house and the fishing pond. Deer, turtles, rabbits, bugs, snakes and foxes, just to name a few, not to mention the occasional skunk, but we’ll leave that story for another time.

Oh, and let’s not forget—birds. Lots of birds.

This spring has apparently been an exceptional time for bird watching in Holyoke.

Earlier in the season my mom saw an ibis. It’s a long-legged wading bird that uses its long, curved beak to probe the swampy mud for food, preferably crustaceans. I guess it was going to have to settle for worms and bugs here in Holyoke.

Another bird she has seen recently is the rare Snowy Egret, the very reason for my momentous bird watching escapade.

I call it rare because home sweet home for the Snowy Egret is certainly not Holyoke, Colorado. Like the ibis, this bird has long legs and a slim bill which comes in handy as it stalks its prey in shallow water.

The mystery of the Snowy Egret was solved when my dad met our new birding friend Joe and learned of the rarity of the bird in Phillips County.

While out on her nature trail one day (I mean the bike path), my mom saw three Snowy Egrets all perched on a fence together. What a sight to behold! It was so exciting she was just positive I needed to see them too.

Thus a couple hours later I embarked on my first bird watching adventure, armed with my camera, in search of the illustrious Snowy Egret.

Now, bird watcher or not, it’s not hard to figure out birds don’t stay in one place for too long. So needless to say, they had abandoned their post by the time I got there.

Not willing to give up quite yet, we decided to simply wing it and continue our search at the fishing pond.

All was not lost as we saw a beautiful pair of yellow birds in addition to a blue heron, which was chilling on a bench at the fishing pond like he didn’t have a care in the world.

And just as I was ready to give up, there in the distance were two egrets. Jackpot!

In light of my expert bird watching skills, I sneakily closed in on the birds. And by that, I mean I would walk toward them, and they would fly away; I would walk toward them, and they would fly away. You get the picture.

In the meantime, though, I snapped some photos of the pair. Mission accomplished! I’d say my bird watching career was off to a flying start!

Since I am, of course, an investigative reporter, I got on trusty Wikipedia after returning home to look at the photos. To my surprise, these two birds were not Snowy Egrets, but were, in fact, Cattle Egrets—another rare bird in Phillips County!

The birds are likely passing through, heading north to a breeding site. One of them was all white in winter, or non-breeding, plumage while the other already had molted into breeding plumage with rich, pale orange spots.

My birding friend tells me they were originally an African bird that made its way to the coast of South America 60-70 years ago, spreading like wildfire ever since.

They are called Cattle Egrets because they follow cattle to eat the grasshoppers and such they kick up off the ground while grazing. Consequently enough, three days after seeing them by the fishing pond we looked out our window, and there they were in the pasture with our cattle. That sure made bird watching easy!

Since then the three egrets—two cattle and one snowy—have been seen together, hanging out in Holyoke before embarking on the next leg of their journey. I guess you could say birds of a feather really do flock together.

Despite my recent encounter with the egrets, I’ve always been a little leery of birds. Have you ever wondered why it is that the bird clips on America’s Funniest Home Videos are always the most painful to watch? (And therefore, the funniest!)

I wonder what the statistics look like for bird attacks on beginning bird watchers like myself. I think I’ll keep my distance. Call me chicken, but I’m perfectly content watching birds from my bedroom window.

And just for the record, real bird watching, or birding, is so much more than sitting in a tree with binoculars, or in my case, sitting in my lounge chair in the backyard.

Holyoke Enterprise June 2, 2011