30 Minutes at the River
Took a cup of coffee down to the river yesterday just after sunup. That seems to be a good time to be taking in the goings-on down there.
Of course there are birds everywhere, in the air, in the trees and everything between. The herons and egrets all seem to be going somewhere early in the morning. Thing is, none of them seems to be going to the same place. A little group of little blue herons will fly north, and another few will fly south and they actually pass each other. Egrets of the three species do the same thing. Night herons go their own way just croaking along. At least you might predict those will be looking for a place to sleep, but they too seem to be looking in all different directions, a few flying this way, a few that. Strange.
Two young pileated woodpeckers land in a big dead willow nearby. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to do anything, they just hitch around the dead tree and preen and look around for several minutes. I wonder where Momma is. In addition there are orchard orioles everywhere – more by far than I have seen in recent years. For hanging around people so much, they sure don’t act very sociable around people, at least not around me. Maybe it’s because I associate with Napoleon.
Most notable bird thing was a group of very young barn swallows. They come and hang out on the dead cocklebur stems from last year down by the water. These guys still have the yellow, wide mouths that recently begged for food from their parents. And they also have a lot of baby feathers that look like down, and it sticks out all over their bodies. It particularly looks bad on their backs which are dark in contrast to the light gray down feathers. They look like little feathered hoboes, kind of bedraggled. As if in recognition of the image they portrayed, they were preening and pulling out the down feathers and letting them float to the ground. Now here’s what’s odd. Another bird flew down among the young swallows and attempted to sit on the same stems they were perched on. They moved a few feet away from it and settled down again. It then flew over to where they were and again they moved away from it. This was repeated at least five times that I saw, and finally the swallows flew away down the river following the bank closely. I kept trying to identify the bird that seemed to be trying to buddy-up with the swallows and just couldn’t pin it down. This was odd because I know the birds in the yard pretty well. It was medium sized with a streaked breast and overall brown color. No wing bars to speak of and no strong head markings. Later I went into the house and Mr.Sibley (Guide to Birds) delivered the identification for me, it was a fledgling brown-headed cowbird. All of a sudden, wow, what a thing! I reminded myself that the cowbird is one of the so-called nest parasites in North America, similar to the European cuckoo over there. The egg for this bird had been deposited in some other species’ nest and then left there by its mother. The “host species” had raised the chick as though it was one of its own, probably to the detriment of the other chicks in the nest. But this morning here was this very young cowbird (which many people have little sympathy for) trying to hang out with the young swallows. And why not try to be a swallow? Chances are it had never seen another cowbird to imitate, certainly not its own parents. How is it supposed to know how to act like a cowbird? The wonder is that it will learn how to do what cowbirds do on its own somehow. But it was so funny, watching this young bird with the wrong beak, the wrong wings and the wrong everything; try to act like a swallow at the river this morning.
A small alligator swam lazily across the river away from the dock. It was probably harassed by the airboats in the river last night hunting frogs. I would never have thought you could catch frogs from an airboat, but apparently you can because the airboats come out every year on the first night of open frog season. Not too peaceful with them around.
A red-eared turtle found a dead gaspergou in shallow water and yanked and pulled it until they both disappeared in deeper water. Yum, fish for breakfast.
And so it went for 30 minutes sitting by the river with a cup of coffee this morning. So much is always happening!
The river is at 5.0 on the Butte La Rose gauge and will fall to 3.9 by Friday. The Mississippi and Ohio are showing small rises but nothing to affect us down here.
Rise and Shine, Jim