Sunday, August 2, 2015


Scissor-tailed flycatcher. Photo by Jason Dykes

“Life is not about the breaths you take; 
it is about the moments 
that take your breath away”
Unknown author

It was a nondescript section of two-lane road north of Pikeville in the Sequatchie Valley. Nothing more, a rural road like any other in East Tennessee.

Yes, Sequatchie. It's a soothing word that happens to be Cherokee and may mean “beautiful valley,” as indeed it is.

We were searching for unusual birds with an unusual name—scissor-tailed flycatchers. Kingbirds far from their normal summer range of Texas and Oklahoma. 

Following the lead of Jason Dykes who followed the lead of Jason Sturner, we knew where to look. "On Highway 127 just before mile marker 20 going toward Pikeville. The birds were in the open sitting on wires above the road."  

That directive was two weeks old but it held true. Rachael Eliot and I found one just after mile marker 20 going away from Pikeville, but that's the same thing.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers are beautifully sculptured with enormously long black and white tails elongated much like the post High Renaissance painting style of Mannerism that featured lightened forms.

The males tails are longer than the female's but she birds choose their mates and the pick the males with the longest, most flashy tails. So female choice drives this affectation. Although the species also uses it's long tail to help it catch flying insects their "nourriture de choix."

Without the tail, they are plain gray flycatchers, that is until they lift their wings to reveal the flashes of salmon pink on their undercarriage.

Yes, salmon pink.

Our quarry was sitting on a power line very much like Jason's photo at the top. We pulled off the road and with binoculars raised, got a good long look as the marvelous creature preened and flew from its perch, using its wondrous tail to aid it in catching a snack.

Thousands of years of evolution have led to its exquisite form and color.  And there it was only a two-hour drive away.

Indeed, it was breathtaking.  

Having just seen a scissor-tailed, she smiles.


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