Thursday, July 20, 2017

spooner surprise

Rachael Eliot adding species number 150 to her Life List

A Life Bird.

The term is known by serious birdwatchers, a.k.a. birders. They keep a Life List noting the date and place they see a species of bird for the very first time. You also mentally store the moment on a synapse scrapbook buried deep inside your brain. I write about the avocation early in my upcoming UT Press book, Ephemeral by Nature. Forgive the shameless book promo.

Coming in September
"Birding is a lifetime pursuit, a sailing of the seven seas in search of treasure: a fleeting glimpse of something rare and exotic. So a Life List is precious. It requires a lot of planning and road trips. A good list is something that has to be cultivated and worked. Forget the subtlety; it’s an obsession." I write on page 2 of Ephemeral

Some species of birds float in and out of our sphere of awareness only briefly, so the sighting of a Life Bird can be extremely ephemeral.

Last Sunday, John O'Barr, a supreme local birder, stopped by the nature center while I was on duty. He told me of an oddly glamorous, rare and foreign Gulf Coast bird paying a visit to rural Blount County. A roseate spoonbill, a pink and white wading bird we almost lost to the plume hunters in the early 1900s, was on a holiday only a few miles away.

"This is only the third recorded sighting in East Tennessee in history," added O'Barr. A spoonbill in East Tennessee is about as predictable as a casino owner becoming president. Neither really should happen, what are the odds? Bazillion to one? But perhaps we have tumbled through a wormhole and entered Superman's Bizarro World, where the truly bizarre is commonplace. 

Early Monday morning, July 17, Rachael Eliot, a.k.a. Starbuck and I paid a visit to the Maryville address and found the spoonbill enjoying the company of two Canada geese by a pond only a short distance from the road. For Starbuck, it was number 150 on her Life List and a mental image was cemented into her hippocampus in her medial temporal lobe somewhere between her two ear channels. OK, that's a bit too anatomical. Let's just say she formed a lasting memory. 

Photo by John O'Barr
"A bizarre wading bird of the southern coasts, the roseate spoonbill uses its odd bill to strain small food items out of the water. Its bright pink coloring leads many Florida tourists to think they have seen a flamingo," reports the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. A white and pink bird with a bill that looks like a large mixing spoon is fairly easy to identity, even from a distance. 

Is the roseate (rosie-it) spoonbill's visit a freak occurrence? Another sign of climate change? Or the marking of a recovered species expansion of range? After all, 5o years ago it was virtually impossible to see a great blue heron or snowy egret in the Tennessee Valley. And today, they are both fairly common.

As in all things, time will tell. 

• Starbuck gets species number 149, click grosbeak.

Roseate spoonbill, pink dot on right, found a rural pond in Blount County to spend a few days. Cell phone photo. 

No comments: