Thursday, August 16, 2012

In the fog, all birds are gray

Great blue heron.
Fog shrouded the Ohio River backwater at Newell's Run early this morning, washing the colorful water birds with shades of gray. I watched a group of ducks swim silently beyond a curtain of fog--mergansers, I think, although they looked more like ghosts. Green herons and kingfishers swept briefly out of the fog before disappearing again, their raucous calls dampened by the gloom.

Near the road a great blue heron fished for breakfast, utterly unconcerned by my presence. They generally stay far from the road, but this one kept fishing even when I walked within 10 or 12 feet. Maybe the fog made me appear nonthreatening--or maybe it was just hungry.

Later I saw another blue heron that didn't look at all blue, this one in sunlight so bright the bird's pure white plumage hurt my eyes. I would never have identified it as a blue heron, but the expert birders in the group confirmed that that white bird striding around the wetland was the little blue heron in its white phase. 

Little blue heron in white phase.
We had traveled to Bellville wetland (in northern West Virginia) in search of another blue bird, the blue grosbeak, which rarely comes this far north. And there he was, deep blue with a clunky beak and a rusty stripe on the wing. The experts used their fancy spotting scopes to find sandpipers, swallows, killdeer, and other small birds, frequently stepping away and offering others a chance to look. They're quiet people, my birding buddies, even when they get excited. 

This was my final birding expedition before the fall semester starts. In the early-morning fog I felt like the only human being in a world of gray ghostly birds, and in the afternoon sun my spirit soared with the flight of the grosbeak--feelings I'll store in a deep reservoir of stillness to which I'll return frequently whenever the academic craziness cranks up.

Blue grosbeak.

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