Sunday, February 6, 2011

Joe Neal's essay titled 'Pink Flamingo' on the AR-Bird list makes a good case for pretending to be a football fan and being safely at home when the Superbowl starts at 5:30 p.m.

Just a little northwest of Gentry, in Benton County, midst the open
flatland that was once the Round Prairie, and still locally known as
Bloomfield, there stands a pink flamingo in the yard of a neat red
brick home in front of five chicken houses. For a week we?ve had ice,
snow, then more snow, and by now there must be 6-8 inches covering
just everything. This yard too is all white, except for a sturdy, lone
pink flamingo, with a few inches of snow on its back ? a White-backed
Flamingo, perhaps.

The temperature out here is 18 degrees and it?s not really stirring
much, planted as it is on its twin steel rods. The White-crowned
Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Harris?s Sparrow and a couple of
Savannahs are making a lively scene at a feeder nearby. It?s not hard
to image how the flamingo is making it through. Plastic and steel,
after all, ignore weather and of course life itself, but what of
creatures like us, mere flesh and blood? And the feet and legs! How
can the Savannahs stand it? In my case, I?m in the Toyota, the heater
is blasting, duck hunter?s hat pulled down over everything but an
eyeball, which is tight on the spotting scope. Savannahs must be
tough, but pink flamingos they aren?t. But I?ve already gotten ahead
of myself.

The day started with a Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society field trip
to Eagle Watch Nature Trail at Gentry. Well, actually it started with
me worrying about whether or not I could even get out of my drive,
much less successfully negotiate 40 miles to Gentry. When I went
outside to start the car the door was frozen shut. Long clear icicles
hung from everything. But the sun at 8 AM was up enough that the
predictions of a warmer day were believable, the car door came open,
and a male cardinal had mounted a frozen bush and begun to sing like

Yes, I made it to Gentry, and yes a grant total of seven others did as
well. We met Terry Stanfill and eventually at least 27 Bald Eagles,
including a soaring flock in a sky impossibly blue. Unfortunately, so
were my feet -- not flocking, but getting blue. I wasn?t alone in this
regard, so by acclamation around 11 we decided to hike back through
the snow to the cars. Bonus bird for the way back was an overflight by
10 Common Mergansers, led by a male with a brilliant green head. The
pinkish blush of their otherwise pure white undersides was illuminated
by a snowfield bathed in sunshine, snow crystals turned to sparkling

Most folks were headed home at this point, but Jacque Brown had driven
from Centerton, and I from Fayetteville, so we decided to get our
money?s worth and drive some more. This drive was on the old former
prairie roads in search of American Tree Sparrows, Lapland Longspurs,
and whatever was available. That?s when we found the pink flamingo.

We found tree sparrows in two spots, including one flock of at least
30 in possession of one of those unkempt fields with scattered native
grasses and a fence in bad repair. They were brightly singing at their
weed seed harvest, rusty caps in a field of white. In the industrious
manner typical of their kind, they were also collecting seeds
dislodged from plants by performing the miracle of walking on snow.

Later in the day we found another small flock of tree sparrows
expertly working seed-rich heads of June grass poking from the
snowfield. The sparrows hopped up 2-3 feet to the seedheads. Here they
perched sideways and went to work. All that vast sparrow bulk (less
than a half-ounce) caused the June grass to slowly bow. Back on the
snow, the sparrows held the seedhead securely their claws, well paid
for their efforts and satisfying their hunger, what must be a great
hunger in such days as these.

JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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