Bird of the Day


Equipped and ready to Bird
Equipped and ready to Bird

I belong to a bird club.  This is not news, lots of people enjoy birding with others because, as my friend France says, “more eyes=more birds.” (See her blog at Bird Tweets at )

The Caloosa Bird Club was founded a long time ago (1958) in Lee County, Florida. Every Monday morning members meet at a pre-arranged spot.  High on caffeine, many of us have been up before dawn.   We quietly creep out of our homes loaded down with binos, scopes, water, sunscreen, hats, notebooks and iphones (with birding apps).  Anticipation is in the air.  It keeps us going–who knows what we might see and hear?  For a birder, that’s key–we live now but there’s always tomorrow.

Vince McGrath, lifetime member of the Caloosa Bird Club
Vince McGrath and Georgia Nef, lifetime members of the Caloosa Bird Club

This particular Monday in November one of our leaders was Vince McGrath, one of the best birders in Southwest Florida.  Vince is a master naturalist and has been watching birds since he was 12.  He’s now in his 50s and has not slowed down or lost his enthusiasm. He  can whistle many bird songs and recognizes chips and churps that the rest of us ignore.  He keeps one eye on the trees, another on the beach and a third on the sky. And he walks fast, sometimes urging folks to keep quiet and walk faster. This trip there are 25 of us.

Birding the Beach
Birding the Beach at Little Estero

We looked for birds in an area called Little Estero Lagoon on Ft. Myers Beach, and  headed for lunch around 11:30. We picnicked under a huge strangler oak at the Mound House, a historical site on the Bay Side of the island. The oak is majestic, the shade welcome and there were enough tables for the whole group, plus restrooms.  (Such amenities, my friends, are birding heaven.)

Mound House Tree
Mound House Tree

As is the club’s custom, we eat and then complete the bird list.  Many of us also list individually on ebird, but the club list is kept internally. Each of us has a sheet to check off the birds we’ve all seen. And so we began: “mottled duck, wood stork, magnificent frigatebird…”finishing with the warblers, which are always last.  Today, we log mostly shore birds, 52 species  overall.

A Semi-palmated Plover
We found lots of Semi-palmated Plovers

Last, we vote on the Bird of the Day.  Vince announces that we “have not yet seen the Bird of the Day. ” In fact, those of us with cell phones have just received texts about a Franklin’s gull on a beach to the south of us , and we speculate that we might be going there, which would be a deviation from club protocol, but possibly worth it. “Yes,” he said, pointing up, “it’s in this very tree…a great horned owl.”

“No,” you’re joking with us,” a member responded, joined by others, who, to our amazement, find we have been sitting directly under the owl.  The owl was content to watch with all-knowing eyes, swiveling his head and then taking a snooze. He was big and brown and high in the tree–to a casual observer, just a bunch of leaves or a squirrel nest.  But not to Vince, who discovered the owl while he was eating and kept quiet for 15 minutes.  Many who know Vince were also amazed that he could keep quiet about a bird for that long!

A great-horned owl at the beach?  That was our Bird of the Day.  Who knows what we’ll see next? That’s the fun of birding.  Our motto:  Keep Looking Up

Owl at Mound House
Owl in the Tree

(To watch a video of Vince in action:




A Crow Gets Even

OSPREY with YOUNGI enjoy watching birds.  They are generally beautiful creatures, with habits and feeding methods that amuse me.  The tiny little blue-grey gnatcatcher must have to eat thousands  of gnats to make a meal.  And sometimes herons and egrets and pelicans have a devil of a time getting the fish they catch down the hatch. And osprey–don’t get me started–their nesting and rearing of young is heroic.

Bird songs are beautiful too, but that brings up modern technology.  It is now possible to carry a cell phone with an app that can play and broadcast just about any bird call.  Real birds of that species respond by coming toward the sound.  It’s not a new idea–ducks have been summoned by hunters for years, but in birding today it’s common for anyone to whip out a cell to playback a call.  Neither humans nor birds can tell it’s a recording.  I have mixed feelings about this, and its a hot topic among real birders.

It adds to the joy of birding if you can actually see birds, but honestly, “calling them in” feels like a guilty pleasure. Instead of spending hours waiting around where the bird was last seen, you can use playback and be on your way to the next spot. But it feels wrong. Imagine it was you–you could hear your phone ring somewhere, but had to run around madly trying to find it every time it rang.  You could be eating, bathing or tending a baby, but you HAD to find it.  And when you got there–nothing.  It would be exhausting, and we’re not birds.

And then there’s pishing.  That’s  just making a noise with your own mouth that sounds like “pish pish,”and sometimes birds fly in to investigate.  I swear one spring in Maryland, I had a prothonotary warbler look at me after pishing, as if to say:“Was that you, fool ?” imagesThe best, the very best bird behavior I have heard was in a parking lot at Yellowstone.  A crow, sitting on a lamp post, had learned to imitate the sound of  car unlocking devices. Humans came out of the hotel, headed to their cars, and shook their heads, wondering what was happening when they heard the telltale “clunk clunk” before they even pushed a button.  The crow, high above, was very pleased with himself. Payback is sweet.

Crows on the light post Crows probably don’t make lists, butI know full well the human need to name and list everything. But I resist making a life list of birds I’ve seen.  (guess that makes it official–I am not a real birder.)  I note sightings in my beat-up field guide–what year and where. That is, if I remember to do it, and I’m not distracted by watching birds in my own backyard.

field guide