Sunday, December 14, 2008
All I want for Christmas are a few more lifers! Like this Baltimore Oriole.
A few months ago, something evil happened to my car's stereo system--for some reason, the buttons on the face plate stopped working, which means I can no longer change radio stations or adjust the the volume on the darned thing. Now I'm stuck with the embarrassing soft-rock station I was listening to when the thing broke, and worst of all, said station has been playing non-stop Christmas music since Halloween. I can't decide which version of "There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays" I hate most: Bing Crosby's, The Carpenters' , or Barry Manilow's pseudo "jazz" version. (I could just drive with the radio off, but adversity builds character.)
All this xmas cheer was bringing out the Grinch in me: just when the rest of the world gets to slow down, build snowmen and gingerbread houses and basically have a gnarly time, I'm trapped in finals week hell, writing and grading exams and racing to get stuff ready for next semester, while getting more and more homesick by the moment. Being constantly reminded by a dead anorexic that I ought to be home with my family eating pumpkin pie only makes things worse.
But the second-best cure for homesickness is distracting yourself with the good stuff where you are that you can't find at home. So yesterday I threw myself into the glory that is north-central Florida by participating in the local Christmas Bird Count.
My team was to cover the north-eastern section of Gainesville, which includes several large parks and lots of tiny retention ponds. Most of us met at Morningside Nature Center at 5 a.m. to look for owls: the moon was nearly full and fantastically bright despite a layer of clouds. We had a gorgeous—but owl-less—early morning walk.
And of course, the slackers on the team who didn't join us until 7 went out to their assigned part of our territory, and immediately spotted a Great Horned Owl. Go figure.
Our team of seven broke into three subgroups, and I was lucky enough to be placed with our team leader, a naturalist who works for Gainesville's park system. He did most of the finding, and I made myself useful by writing everything down. Thanks to him, I managed to get two more lifers: a Brown-headed Nuthatch (a now-uncommon bird here that is only regularly seen locally in Morningside) and a Baltimore Oriole.
Between writing stuff down, counting things up, and trying to find more birds, I didn't have much time to take pictures. I wish I had gotten a shot of that Nuthatch! But we did manage to find a fairly cooperative Red-headed Woodpecker: they're gorgeous birds; their heads look like they're covered with red velvet:
We birded until 5, with a brief break at a surprisingly good pizza place for lunch. At 5:30, all 11 teams assembled for dinner and the final count-up: the first half of the event consisted of individual teams eating (yet more) pizza while frantically tallying up their sightings and trying to calculate distances and travel times involved. The highlight of the evening was the final collective reading: we went through all the expected county birds, and each team announced how many it had found. Someone entered all the numbers in a computer database, and the numbers (compared to past highs and typical records) were displayed on a video screen for all to watch.
Some teams got some good stuff: There was a sighting of a Limpkin, and the Harris' Sparrow at La Chua stuck around for the count, as hoped. Our territory didn't yield anything exceptional, except for the Nuthatches.
But it was still a great day of birding. And the pizza wasn't bad either.