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Category: Tales from the Trails

Birds of a Feather…

My younger sister is both a birder and a librarian. That’s about it. Give her a bird and a book and she is SO happy.

She migrates every Spring and Fall to Cape May Point , NJ , to witness the great bird migrations there. The Point is a major stopover for about 1000 gigabytes of feathered travelers. Raptors galore. Shore birds, too.

There’s one beach bird that runs along the surf edge, dodging the dying waves and pecking the sand for who knows what. It’s called a Sanderling, and, like friends of a feather they flock together along the spit, frenetically pecking for prey.

Eventually they rest, lifting one skinny leg against their bellies…for warmth they say. However, given my extensive observations during many years as a beach bum, I have concluded that the real reason they stand on the one leg is because if they picked it up, they would fall down. Peterson and Audubon missed that one.

There’s an observation platform at the State Park by the lighthouse for sister and the usual gaggle of watchers. They are variously armed with an array of binoculars and spyglasses…instruments that resemble something any seasoned astronomer would be proud of. Some of the telescopes are mounted on tri- or monopods and backed by a digital camera with a flash unit apparently purloined from an airport runway. They take pictures of birds.

My own house is inhabited by Swift Swallows which, I am told, host lice. They skim water from my pool, add dirt from my garden, and put same under my eves to build their adobes with over 1000 mud spits per nest. I am further told that their nest may not be removed as the birds are ‘protected’. Well they can stay anyway as they are likely in a family way and they dine on tiresome insects.

But as for ‘protected’ I wonder about that. Few animals have so benefited from human encroachment on their habitat. Check under any bridge. They have adapted to the shelters we have provided for them. (I think maybe mice, rats and coyotes have also so benefited.) According to “Desert USA” (online): “During our expansive 20th century, (swallows have extended their) breeding season range dramatically, both northward and southward, capitalizing on nesting sites offered by newly constructed bridges and buildings.” They are doing better than the Homing Pigeon and Osprey, thank you.

They harbor even more unique attributes. Besides being exceptionally cantankerous, known to flog the competition, they have the weird habit of moving their eggs to another nest and sometimes winding up with some other bird’s orphans in theirs, resulting in a clutch of mixed parentage. Wouldn’t that confuse an ornithological genealogist?

Two of my swallows fell to the patio while thoroughly engrossed in their act of procreation. They were apparently unfazed by the fall. Now that’s preoccupied.