Memories of Long-Ago Birds

Memories of Long-Ago Birds

For Audubon's field editor, these recollections enrich his birdwatching and his being

By Frank Graham Jr.
Published: 01/23/2013
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Frank Graham Jr.

Frank Graham Jr. is a field editor for Audubon.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


the yellow-throated warbler

I had just received my bran new Nikon binoculars in the mail. I had been holding back for a week or so for a birding outing so that the first time was special :). There I was at one of the biggest hotspots in Monterey county near Moss Landing, Ca. As the hike went on, I was almost more concerned with adjusting the binos and getting used to them rather than looking for birds. Heading down to the brackish ponds, BOOOM! a Solitary Sandpiper is spooked by me and flies out from the pickleweed. Sweet! my first rare bird with my new binos. After that I was ready for more so I travel a little ways west to a eucalyptus grove. Hundreds of house finches! Now I have the hang of the new Nikons. So worked my way down the path and there and behold a nuthatch like bird, gleaning and hoping around methodically. I raise the binos to my face. What is that?! a warbler with a bright yellow throat and descending high pitch call. There, I am witnessing a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER a long way from home! I was without a camera so I had no way of documenting it.
The following day I returned to the same spot and was able to find it again and get a few shots of it. YES! its legitimate.
What did I learn.... patience is a virtue, never jump to conclusions, always be on your toes, I love birding, and im going to hang on to these binos for a while :)

The thrill of a lifetime

My most memorable bird experience was early in the morning on Prion Island near South
George Island. It was near the end of the nesting season for the wandering albatross. We settled down to watch three birds sitting near a ledge. Soon a young female bird came by, circled about three times and the landed in front of one of the waiting birds. Apparently it was a male who had waited in vain for his mate to return. Now it was time to bond with a new mate for the next year, They began the bowing and wing flaps that are the dance of the wandering albatross. Our guide whispered that he hoped that we understood how lucky we were. I knew. Now I take pleasure of watching a chickadee nest In a house in my backyard.

Yellow-billed cuckoo

Every time I see a yellow-billed cuckoo, I am transported to the first one I ever saw. I was at home and heard the SPLAT of a bird striking my window. I peeked outside and saw a slightly dazed-looking bird in a nearby tree. I saw the yellow on its beak and thought, "Oh no! That bird BROKE ITS BEAK ON MY WINDOW!". I whipped out my field guide to discover it was a yellow-billed cuckoo and, to my GREAT relief, it was supposed to look like that.

Red-Bellied Chick

During last summer's severe drought in West Michigan, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers showed up in our backyard with their chick. They guided the chick to the crook in our large locust tree, which is right next to our birdbath. There they kept him for the two weeks of hundred-degree days. We watched them teach the chick to climb and drill for insects and how to use the birdbath for water. Every now and then, we see a single red-bellied return to the tree and the birdbath. I know it is the chick, now grown. It was the most wonderful bird encounter I have ever had.

the day I knew I was a birdwatcher

My seven year old daughter was in the passenger seat of our Ford Ranger truck. We were bringing a load of horse manure to my husband's immense and well-fed compost heap. (He was a happy gardener)! Suddenly I hissed to my daughter, "get down!" She slid under the glove box, eyes wide. I slowly opened the door of the truck and crawled out, sneaking around the side to peer past the headlights. I hissed to my daughter to come see! She slid out, expecting who knows what. "See honey," I breathed, "It's a Baltimore Oriole!" My triumph of birding was chowing down on some orange peels I'd tossed into the compost heap. My daughter stood up in seven year old wrath, "MOM!" She stomped into the house, but I stayed with my golden and black beauty until he flew off. That was the day I knew I was a birder. My family never recovered.

Bird encounters...

I've had so many special sightings over the years -- but the one that sticks out for me was at Fort DeSoto in St Petersburg, Florida... I was out fishing, like I normally am, in one of the little inlets on the bay side of the park, when I looked up and saw a bright, fuchsia line flying through the sky... Imagine my surprise at seeing an American Flamingo flying out towards the Gulf... I'm certain that the flamingo had escaped from captivity somewhere -- they just don't range this far north in the state -- but I was still shocked... Time stood still -- I'd never seen anything SO pink up against a clear blue sky... Made up for the bad fishing that day, that's for sure :-)...

Memory of special birds

My long lasting memory of birds are Wilson's Warbler. It was my first sight of these beautiful birds at the Gray's Harbor National Wildlife Reserve in Hoquim of Washington last spring. For some brief minutes I was surrounded by a group of about 30 birds during Spring migration at the trail. I was alone. They were fluttering around me in the bushes, I had eye contacts with many. They were just a few feet from me. I felt the moments of acceptance and belonging to the flock.

Next equally memorable encounter with birds are Brown Pelicans. On our boat trip returning to the harbor from the Stone Island Mangrove near Mazatlan of Mexico last winter, a group of about 10 birds appeared from nowhere and flew at both sides of our small pontoon boat with equal speed of the boat. They escorted us for a while. When I looked to the side of the boat, the birds made the eye contact with me. I thought I felt a smile from them.


screeching halt

Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown, CT. A bunch of botany students riding in the back of a UConn Suburban driven by naturalist Les Mehrhof felt the truck come to a screeching halt. Les turned back to us and said, "Barred Owl, to the left." Sure enough, there was the solemn bird at eye-level with us out the left side of the vehicle. It blinked it's sleepy eyes at us while we gawked. It's the first and last time I've actually seen a Barred Owl, though I hear them a lot. I tell this as a bird moment, and as a memory of the intrepid Dr. Mehrhof who is sorely missed.

Blue Herons

I have two Koi ponds in my yard--one more shallow in the front yard for the neighborhood children to wade in. I came home in the afternoon and instead of some of the children, there was a big Blue Heron checking out my Koi! It was frightened by my approach and so flew to the roof where he was joined by his mate. As they looked at me wishing perhaps I would leave them to the Koi, I looked at them amazed at just how really beautiful they are. They have never returned that I know of---none of my Koi have disappeared while many other ponds in the neighborhood have lost all of theirs to these lovely birds. I laugh to myself that we must have reached some kind of territorial truce!

Brilliant Male Cardinals

All my life, whenever a pair of cardinals would be in sight, my father would say to me "Look at that drab female Cardinal! And look at that brilliant male cardinal!!!" Even though I have always lived in areas of the country where Cardinals are common, every time I see a a drab female cardinal or a brilliant male cardinal, it reminds me of my father and makes me smile. Thanks for the memory and for your article.

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