Sunday, January 30, 2011

A good day at Hammonassett

My upbringing was all brightly colored, screeching subtropical parrots, and it seemed as likely that I would make a trip to the moon as see an auk with my two eyes. But we had a rare treat in Connecticut this morning -- the first sighting in the state of a Common Murre, at Hammonasset State Park. This photo won't be winning any awards, but you get the idea -- a miniature floating football with a beak.

Common Murre at Hammonasset, Connecticut, 01/30/11

Every time I see a rarity I'm surprised all over again by how the bird always appears unfazed by the fact it has landed in the wrong place at the wrong time. This murre looked so nonchalant, so at home in Madison, with its very good book shop, its restaurants and cafes and bars. This bird is meant to be out in some cold storm-tossed ocean. The way it was occasionally paddling its legs like a lazy vacationing swimmer made me chuckle.

Other birds often know that something's not quite right, though. This time it was a Short-eared Owl. It appeared out of nowhere and circled several times above, calling. I didn't realize what graceful flyers they can be -- when it flapped it looked like a bat or a giant moth, but when it glided it was all elegance. It was hard to take a photo at all because with two such amazing birds in front of me at once my brain kind of popped.

Short-eared Owl, Hammonasett, 01/30/11

Meanwhile, on the other side of us, Horned Larks were calling, running across the snow. I wish all precipitation came in the form of snow. What a glittery hushed world it would be.

I'm heading to the southwest later this week -- Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, maybe southern California -- where the weather is warm and snow is reserved for mountaintops. I can't wait to chase new birds I've never seen before -- Rosy Finches, maybe the Taiga Bean Goose (I just want to see that because of its name). But I am sad to leave the snow. Spring will come and melt it all anyway, I know. Soon enough the world will return to noise and motion. Yet already I mourn these quiet moments we're having right now and the joy of everything being so unrecognizable in these drapes of sparkly white.

Pics of the Common Murre: Talking Nature and Shorebirder have proper photos where you can actually, you know, see the bird.

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