Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nature 102: We're Getting Downright Worldly Now

Well, we've done it again. We crossed the border into Canada last Saturday. And thank goodness we crossed back. More on that later.

Two Fridays ago we were invited (along with some other couples) to one of the pastor's homes for finger foods and a meet-and-greet. This is the church we've been attending since the second week we arrived in Michigan, and the only one we've attended for that matter. We happened to be the only couple that either answered the phone or was able to come, so our kids ended up getting invited too, and we ended up having homemade pizza instead.

After we ate, we ended up in their den. This room had pictures, books, and tons of other bird watching paraphernalia. These people are serious about their birds. We like to watch birds, but we are only amateurs. We're hang-up-bird-feeder-and-see-what-comes kind of people. We saw pileated woodpeckers in our woods behind our house in Virginia and considered that a big deal (which it was for most ordinary people).

The pastor and his wife (they have no children) were going bird watching at a hawk tower at Holiday Beach Conservation Area the next week and invited us to go along (this was this last Saturday). This area is one of the main migratory paths for raptors (birds of prey) and other birds. They expected us to go home before they did and were surprised we hung with them all day. Caboose was ready to go earlier than everyone else, but he always is.

The first thing we did when we got there was go up to the hawk tower. People were naming the different hawks they were seeing in the air, and these birds were way up there, and I'm thinking that I'm way out of my league and I'm never going to get the hang of this. But by the time the day was over, I figured out how to watch wing flapping patterns and such to help identify the different hawks.

During the course of the day they bring different song birds up and release them from the tower. The first time they brought three different ones up: the yellow-breasted chat, the grey-cheeked thrush, and the Swainson's thrush. Caboose got to release the grey-cheeked thrush. Here are the pictures of those birds:

Yellow-breasted chat

Swainson's thrush (left) and grey-cheeked thrush (right)

Caboose releasing the grey-cheeked thrush

Next we went down to watch them band and release three hawks, two red tailed hawks and one sharp shinned hawk. We adopted one of the red tailed hawks. Hubby said it was to help get Chatty and me back into good graces with the raptors after watching one eat a precious junco on our back porch in Virginia. Well, actually we didn't watch it physically eat it, but we saw the catch and kill and blood and stuff that made us unhappy. Those little juncos are so cute.

Here's the hawk that is not ours; it's a little bigger and was probably a female based on that. It's also a juvenile, just like ours, because the tail wasn't actually red yet (on the side you can't see).

Here's our bird. Isn't he handsome?
Chatty is extremely unhappy that I am posting this picture
and can't crop her out. She said she was cold and that is
the explanation for the look on her face.

Our bird is even a little unhappy.

Here's a group shot right before I launched him.

I was the family holder of the bird because there was no way that any of those kids was going to be happy if another one got to hold the bird and they didn't. So Hubby decided it would be me. It went back to that whole junco thing. When I launched that bird, I launched it like a bowling ball but I kept going up into the air. It wasn't a very good picture so I'm not putting it on here.

I don't know if you can see it in the picture where I said the bird was unhappy, but he has a hole in his tongue. It's so he can breathe while he's swallowing his dinner whole.

Guess what's in the Pringles' can? A sharp shinned hawk. A female one at that, because they put the smaller males in tomato cans.

Here she is out of the can.

We went back up to the hawk tower after adopting our hawk and releasing it. They brought up a couple more birds to release: a ruby throated hummingbird and a bay breasted warbler.

Ruby throated hummingbird
Bay breasted warbler

While we were on the tower this second time we saw immature and adult bald eagles in flight, and two adults sitting out in a dead tree in the middle of this marshy area. It was absolutely cool. At one point while I had the binoculars, there were two immature eagles that were playing with each other and got hooked up together and started spiraling down towards the ground for a good ten to fifteen seconds. I've never seen anything like it, and probably never will again.

We wandered around some trails and by the roadside after that and spotted some songbirds, a woodpecker, and some other neat birds we hadn't seen before. It was a lot of fun. The pastor and his wife had some great binoculars we got to use which helped a lot. Plus a little laser pointer that I think I'm going to have to get. I can find lots of other uses for that I think.

Coming back through customs was a bit of an adventure. Chatty has a name that we shorten. For some reason the border crossing agent asked both girls their names. She gave her name we call her. Hubby and I didn't even catch on, and we hadn't given the "talk" about names since we went to Niagara Falls a few weeks ago. Somehow the border crossing agent missed her birth certificate, or didn't catch her name, because it's obvious what it is. It's not like we call her Frankie and her name is Christine. He was chatting with us for four or five minutes, he asked her her middle name, but then there was an immediate switch to something else so it never got answered. Finally I said her shortened name in comment to something, and he said, "You don't have a Chat here." I said, "It's short for Chatty. It's one of the matching birth certificates you have in your hand. They are twins." He said, "My granddaughter's name is Chatty." We got to leave pretty quickly after that. Somehow we raised a red flag, he missed something, who knows? But I'm pretty sure the people behind us in line weren't too happy.

I'm also thinking that we need to get passports for those cute little troublemakers that ride in the back seats with us pretty soon.


Betsy said...

Wow...how fun was that! That hawk was especially amazing!

Mari said...

What a neat experience. I love to see hawks flying, but have never seen one close up.

Heather and Reese said...

How fun... and I'm glad you made it back into the US.


Lora said...

What a great experience! Those birds are beautiful!

Funny story about the customs officer, too. My family also has a pretty funny one: We once took a trip to Niagara Falls with my aunt and her husband. They were in a separate car and when it came their turn to drive up to the officer, he totally forgot he had a gun in his car--thus forgetting to claim it and leave it at the border. Well, apparently they sensed he was lying and they pulled him over and searched the car...finding the gun. Well, they arrested him and put him in jail. We had to hire a lawyer and go to court. It took the whole day and we thought we'd never make it to Niagara. He finally got off with just a fine and a valuable lesson about lying-ha! The funniest thing: he was a very large man and he was wearing a bright red Mickey Mouse t-shirt--just imagine that in court:)

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