What if your nose was blue? Whenever I look at a ruddy duck, so named for its body colour, of all things, and not its bright blue nose, this is the phrase that comes to mind. Takes me back to my classroom days when it was popular to call out randomly, “you’re a ________” when someone, as in the teacher, said something like, “okay, let’s take another look at that last passage” and the student might say, “you’re a passage,” making me a little crazy with trying to get the whole point of this fad. I still don’t have it right because my example is not random enough. By the time I figured out the cool things, cool was long gone.
Anyway, back to that ruddy duck, whose dabbling ways and turquoise schnozz had been catching my attention during our adventures in the Tunkwa Lake area. This duck, well, the male of the species, shows that he is not to be trifled with by bashing his blue beak against the water and blowing/creating bubbles. Perhaps he is trying to generate a rainbow for a prospective mate or create the illusion of being larger than he is by frothing up the territory. Whatever the reasoning, he takes his job seriously and his display is most entertaining.
Another bird that captured our attention on this road trip was a little more easy to overlook being small and quick to flutter off: the vesper sparrow. We’ve probably seen hundreds of these little guys and not registered them because even birders (well, this one, at least) get tired of constantly enumerating the species. At Tunkwa Lake however, each small bush in a five metre radius was decorated by a sparrow who began proclaiming territory at about four thirty in the morning. The song was pleasant enough but highly repetitive to my ear and while they all sounded the same to me, I wondered if some feathered listeners were hearing Laurel and others Yanny as in the popular auditory phenomenon found everywhere on facebook these days. Regardless, what a treat to sit wrapped in a blanket sipping camp coffee, hearing the birds announcing themselves to the world.
The third bird that stands out to me from this trip is the great grey owl-strix nebulosa, whose name is so poetic it whispers through my head soundlessly, like the bird itself in flight. I feel like chanting the name might summon the bird but alas, this does not work, unless there is a significant time lapse between the incantation and the appearance. We spent six mornings and evenings, scanning fields and tree limbs and each time returned to camp with hundreds of photos of sparrows and ducks and marmots-obliging posers that they are-and zero photos of owls. Finally we crested a hill at seven one morning, already claiming the day too far advanced for an owl and there it was, grey and white like the poplar trunks, blinking its yellow eyes in the sun and scanning for voles in a meadow. The owl ignored us while we clicked away with our cameras and we drove away reluctantly awhile later.
I found out this trip that folks in the UK refer to birders as twitchers and I had to laugh at the apt description, since my head swivelled and jerked several times while we got to know the couple who shared this detail with us-was that a loon? Perhaps a bufflehead? A magpie? So many birds to see, so much to learn about their habits and songs-they just keep us twitching away but thankfully, our noses are not blue, yet.
PS-the vesper sparrow might be a savanna sparrow or another sparrow we may not have considered-there are a lot of sparrows…