Learning the birds pulls up strange bedfellows in so far as teaming certain words in sentences.
Background: Our birding trips begin the same way.
Ray drives, navigating from this bridge over that river to this roadside near that corn-stubble field, and we talk about Other Stuff: Libya.Writing Group. The Red Sox. Public Radio. The local schools. Arthritis. Joining the YMCA. The Infinity Music Hall. Chico’s. Whiskey. Eating Vegetables. Mr. Klug’s windmill. NPR’s Birdnote. Lyme Disease.
Honest. I keep a list.
We also make future birding plans: Let’s go to the Wonquak Preserve and see the herons. What’s at the shore? How about a Roraback Estate hike?
Then we talk about Dust of Snow moments, as in the poem? You know, that dust of snow from a hemlock tree that shakes down on us and gives our hearts a change of mood and maybe saves a part of a day we have rued?
I tell how I walked to my field to check on the few lingering snow buntings only to get supervised all the way up and down the road by a bevy of bluebirds.
Ray describes cresting a hill in that drive-slowly-and-let-my-peripheral-vision-and-subliminal-instincts-about-what’s-out-there-work-its-magic manner that he has. He’ll say something like, And there it was!
There what was?
You’re not listening! Got your hearing aids in? There it was–AN EASTERN MEADOWLARK!
This is a species that was doing great when we were cutting down all the forests. But now the problem is not enough meadows or hay mows. So, it’s a treat to see one, in addition to being an SOS (sign of Spring?).
On this particular birding trip, I tilt backwards with my binoculars and say, TV up there? I harbor this secret (well, no secret anymore, is it!) yearning to show how good I am at spotting and identifying birds I know we’ve been exposed to multiple times. This particular bird, the turkey vulture, is a bird I like to think of as my friend. I mean, without this guy and his ilk, we’d be knee-deep in rotting road kill.
Ray hardly has to take his eyes off the spotting scope–we’re at an ice-around-the-edge- only-pond counting water fowl. Nope. Try again.
Hmmm. You’re right. The wings aren’t in a dihedral are they? This is the fool-proof way to ID the TV. Think V-shape wing posture. But then I fog up as to what this COULD be if NOT a TV.
Luckily Ronnie helps out. Must be a Black Vulture. Look at the wings. Broader than the turkey vulture. Large, whitish patch at the tips? Choppy flap?
Ray elaborates further. A Black Vulture’s soaring style is different from the TV’s. It’s heavier and has a smaller wing surface, so it needs stronger thermals to stay aloft. Stronger thermals are higher up, and that’s why they soar higher on horizontal wings or with their wings held a tiny bit above the horizontal. And! When they glide downward, they keep their wings flat. When it does flap it’s like a frantic flap, not as majestic as the Turkey Vulture.
There. I’ve atoned for misidentifying a “known” bird.
I have used the word majestic and turkey vulture in the same sentence!