Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It Could Have Been Worse

Every slasher flick needs one of these!

This weekend, a dream nearly came true, and it was not a good thing.

Last week, I kept having this awful spring migration anxiety dream: I could just tell the trees were dripping with birds, but my parents/family/friends all needed me to be somewhere else. In my dream, I kept telling everyone (including my darling birder husband) that there were tons of warblers and tanagers and buntings outside, but they wanted to stay inside and nap or go shopping or something else equally boring, and for some reason, I was obliged to join them.

But of course, dreams and reality are (usually) two different things. And this weekend was looking pretty darned good: On Saturday, we were headed to Palm Coast to see one of my old Sea and Sage Audubon buddies, who was out here to visit another old friend. She said she wanted to go birding with us, and that the friend she was staying with would hook us up with a local birder. Cool.

The first sign that things were going south was the fact that our Palm Coast birder connection had just gotten out of bed when my friend's host called her, around 10:00 on Saturday morning. Could this person possibly be a real birder? It turned out, predictably, that the answer was no: she was a darling person with a personality I wish I could bottle and sell, but the only birds she had any interest in were raptors. All those "little things" held no interest for her. Sigh.

But in her company, we did manage to see several Bald Eagle and Great Horned Owl nests, as well as several adorable not-quite-fledged owlets, who looked like giant Muppets.

It was a great seasonal treat. But I still wanted my warblers.

Well, there was always Sunday back in Gainesville—when there would be an Alachua Audubon trip to River Rise State Park, where I had my life sightings of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, as well as numerous sightings of Summer Tanagers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and dozens of other goodies last year. If we left Palm Coast before sunset, we'd be back in Gainesville in time for a nice home-cooked dinner and a reasonably early night in preparation for a morning of warbler-chasing.

But about halfway back to Gainesville, my car started shaking and riding weirdly—a seriously flat tire. Luckily, there was a long right-turn lane just ahead; we pulled into it, turned on the emergency blinkers, and called AAA. And waited.

Then I noticed the odd rectangular blocks of stone sticking out of the brush just off the side of the road. Tombstones. Gnarly. Don't about half of all teen slasher flicks in the world start with a couple getting a flat tire right by a cemetery? And the sun was about to set, too.

So our romantic Saturday night consisted of driving around the dreary town of Palatka on our tiny little spare tire, looking for an open tire shop where we could get our flat tire patched or replaced. No luck. And our options were (1) spending the night in a town whose distinguishing features are a huge bail-bond shop and huger adult superstore or (2) driving the remaining 60 miles back to Gainesville on that tiny little spare at 40 mph with our emergency blinkers on, gaining us the emnity of every driver in north-central Florida. We chose the latter option. It sucked less than the former, but not by much.

And Sunday's trip to River Rise also seemed to be a wash: We dragged our sleep-deprived carcasses all the way out there only to find that nobody but us and one other birder buddy had any interest in stopping and looking for treasured migrants—or for that matter, any birds at all. Summer Tanagers and Yellow-throated Vireos were singing everywhere, but nobody wanted to stop and look for them. Instead, we sprinted grimly down the trail and only stopped to discuss...trees. Okay, trees are cool. But they're here year-round, don't move and are freaking easy to find. Migrant birds are not. Seriously. Can't that discussion about the difference in bark patterns between loblolly and short-leaf pines wait until summer??

But at the very end of the trip, the outing was redeemed: Just as we were about to leave, we found a feeding flock containing a Hooded Warbler, a Worm-eating Warbler, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a handsome male Common Yellowthroat. The absence of chlorophyl in any of these organisms caused most our our group to roll their eyes in boredom (this was an Audubon trip; why were they even there??) , but I didn't care. I'd gotten my warbler fix for the week. It wasn't the best I'd ever had, but still, my first worm-eaters and hoodies of the year.

And best of all, I made it out of a creepy cemetery in a sleazy prison town alive, just before sunset. Thank goodness for small favors.


Bill S. said...

Sounds like you had a great outing. Anytime you can be out with the birds is a good day. Great pictures of the owlets.

DaveABirding said...

Glad you finally found your warblers - although I bet that cemetery had great habitat!

Felicia said...

Bill S-Any day birding is a good day for me! You are very right.
DaveA--I actually did pull out my bins and check out the area (from inside the car) while waiting for AAA to arrive. Alas, nothing but our year-round residents!

jen said...

Haha this was a great post! I love love love the owlets!