GAYS MILLS - I wrote a while ago about the bees. Let’s turn now to the birds.
It seems like everyone I know around here is ‘into birds’ to some extent. City people are vaguely aware of our feathered friends. But people here see more birds, more wildlife, and more of the natural world in general as a matter of course. It’s hard to find nature in a city and hard to avoid it out here. And if you feed birds, like so many do, their daily visits become a part of your life.
You never know when a birding experience in the wild will happen. One memorable scene I shall never forget happened in an instant and I just happened to catch a glimpse of it.
Driving one summer day on one of our many scenic, winding back roads, I came around a corner and saw up ahead some kind of a raptor in the road, a hawk, I believe it was. I spooked it as I approached and he was having a hard time getting airborne. In its grasp was a pretty good-sized snake, still very much alive and writhing. The weight of the snake alone was a challenge to the bird, but the movement of the serpent seemed to be a bigger problem. I don’t know how that drama played out, but they were soon up in the woods and out of sight, continuing their struggle for survival as they went.
One time, and it must have been during the fall migration, I saw hundreds of white birds in and around that body of water that the Gays Mills Library now overlooks. I’ve always known it as the Cutoff Slough, although it looks like a lake or pond. About half of the birds were on the water but they weren’t ducks. More like seagulls, good-sized and white. Could that be, seagulls passing through? The other half were flying in what seemed to be a very haphazard manner low over the water. The action reminded me of a watching a washing machine.
As my wife and I watched, what seemed like pandemonium morphed into a definite pattern. The flying group began flying in a large circular pattern and began to gain altitude, corkscrewing into the sky. They reached a height somewhat above the surrounding hills. Those ‘Ocooch Mountains’ that we are so proud of are about 300 feet higher than the valley floor so the birds were at about 500 feet. Then, by some cue, every single bird, no kidding, locked their wings into a fixed position and headed west. They obviously caught some kind of current and simply, effortlessly, sailed off, easy as you please. We watched until they were out of sight and did not see one single flap of wings. You had to be there to believe what happened and we felt so lucky to have seen it. We later learned that the group action of flying up in a circle pattern like that is called kettling.
My latest birding experience concerns ‘yard birds’ AKA chickens. The four Buff Orpington hens that were given to us about a month ago are a daily connection with some pretty cool birds. While they are not technically wildlife they are not quite pets either, although they do like the black walnuts I crack for them. They go their own way, usually as a group, and are constantly on the move, hunting, scratching, pecking away. They have always been free range and have adapted to their new home with ease. They are fun to watch, friendly, curious, and very entertaining.