Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Joe Neal: Devil's Den vultures and Phoebes on March 1, 2011

The early bird supposedly gets the worm, but maybe the lay around  
birder gets the close-up look at a vulture? I went down to Devils Den  
State Park this morning and got there for the blue sky, the brilliant  
sun. Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures were still lazing about in  
roost trees. One Turkey Vulture is perched in an oak just budding,  
fully wing-spread and soaking up rays. My point: early is not required  
for extraordinary.
Sitting on Lee Creek bridge, looking up toward a typical Ozark ridge,  
the bluff line has a shallow saddle shape. Is this real or illusion?  
Is it just the brilliant sun or the shapes of leafless trees. While I  
puzzle over this I notice a line of dark green cedars and above that,  
an intricate lace of leafless limbs. And above that, a blanket of blue  
sky with a thin feathering of clouds, a drifting kettle of 10 Black  
Vultures, spring peepers in the back ground, chorusing.
The day is so beautiful I forget to use my binoculars. In fact, I  
forget to stay awake. I forget everything and prop up against a big  
smooth rock alongside Lee Creek. When I wake I think a titmouse is  
pulling at gray hair sticking outside my cap. Am I dreaming or what?  
My hair as lichen; maybe the titmouse thinks it will work to line a  
nest. Or maybe I have finally lost my mind. Yes, the smooth cobbles  
alongside the creek are real and forgiving.
So I am back up and walking around looking at stuff. Best sightings of  
the day are White-breasted Nuthatches, walking the trees. They stop,  
look out, and survey the scene from gravity-defying upside down. They  
call and keep looking. They see what we cannot see unless we bend down  
and look from between our knees. I am considering such wild things in  
view of the various courses, the various back-and-forths, the various  
stops-and-starts, the various backing-ups, in my own life. And to  
think we always talk about them walking upside down!
It was a good phoebe day in the Den, too. In our neck of the Ozarks we  
do see phoebes at times during winter. Today there are at least a  
couple of pairs in the park. Doesn't matter to me what the calender  
says. A pair of phoebes makes a spring.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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