Thursday, July 26, 2007
Walk on the Wild Side
One never knows that adventures that await us during the most ordinary of outings. In this case, it was one of my morning bird surveys. I was anxious because I had been watching certain birds all through the nesting season. Two weeks ago, I saw a Wood Duck mama with 7 babies, barely larger than golf balls. Knowing the hazards faced by small ducklings, I was less than optimistic about their chances for survival. During last week's survey, Mama Wood Duck was alone, her offspring apparently only a memory of this particular human. So, my expectations for this survey were minimal. Imagine my surprise when I saw, not just Mama Duck, but five much larger offspring. They must have been securely hidden from me on my last visit as Mama swam bravely downstream, leading me away from her brood. The Ash-throated Flycatchers were anything but discreet as their rambunctious young chattered and chased each other through the tree tops. The little Bewick's Wren young were trying to learn their language, the little males singing the strangest of songs, barely recognizable. By next spring, their vocal mastery will perhaps seduce one of this year's also matured females.
The bosque, a riparian woodland along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico is a remarkable place. At dawn, which is when I conduct surveys, it is alive with song, sound, and motion, but devoid of most human activity. It is the precious realm of animal life, and I am privileged to observe as I slowly saunter along the riverbank, recording all birds seen and heard.
Today, however, another flighted object suddenly filled the air space, one that did not belong to the animal kingdom. With a large whoosh, and a chorus of laughter from the paying passengers, the hot air balloon made for the river, where it would dip the bottom of the basket into ochre waters of the mighty Rio, stained from the Triassic clays of the Jemez Mountains. Daddy Swainson's Hawk took fright and flight at the low flying balloon and raced to his nest, calling anxiously. The smaller birds merely became silent, motionless, and hopefully invisible to the large round predator without wings.
I waited patiently, for I knew once the balloon "Splashed and Dashed" its flight pattern would continue due east, and within a few minutes, life would return to normal in the forest.