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Spun Gold
by Bob Reed

I had the privilege recently of admiring a true work of art, done without hand, brush or palette. In fact the only medium was plant fiber, and the only tools a beak, andMale Orchard Oriole at Nest perhaps a foot or two. There are birds’ nest, and then there are birds’ nests. We had the good fortune to see a Orchard Oriole’s nest down in Fitzpatrick. It was situated in the top of a small apple tree, no more than eight feet above the ground. It was woven so intricately that, even when I stood within five feet of the nest, and used binoculars, I could not see one single stray fiber. I wish we could have determined what kind of plant material she used. It looked like spun gold. Every fiber was identical, all evidently garnered from the same source, and every one was a bright burnished copper color. I read recently where an Orchard Oriole’s nest was disassembled, and that each grass fiber was almost identical in length to the others. They are obviously very particular about their nest construction.

I remember one other oriole nest. The year was 1957. It was a Baltimore Oriole’s nest, and it hung down probably 20 inches, like a pendulum, from a tree in my aunt’s yard in Weatherford, Texas. It too had no stray parts. It truly looked like a lady’sAdult Male Baltimore Oriole handbag, so perfect was the workmanship. Seeing that masterpiece, with its magical trap door that the bird had to push open to gain access, was one of those pivotal moments in my life. Perhaps from that moment I was destined to become a birder, even though the interest lay somewhat dormant for many years. After seeing that enchanting nest, I devoured books from the Waco, Texas, city library on every facet of nature, from snakes and dinosaurs to birds and trees. I had not the faintest inkling that one could actually buy binoculars and look at things that were too fast or too distant to see otherwise. I did catch many of the slower critters, such as lizards -- particularly horned toads -- and snakes. Dad built me a cage for them, but when I made the mistake of telling my mother that I was missing one little bitty snake, she evicted my menagerie to the back porch.

Pat and I were in Fitzpatrick running a Breeding Bird Survey route. Every year, in early June, hundreds of birders get up very early and, starting at an assigned point, count birds. We had to start at 5:04 a.m. The idea is to stop at pre-assigned stops every half mile, and count all the birds you see or hear in a three-minute period. There are 50 stops on our route. All the data gathered by us volunteers is compiled and becomes part of a wonderful database that tracks birds and habitats throughout North America.

In addition to the Orchard Oriole, we saw or heard about a zillion other birds. The most common were American Crows, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and Indigo Buntings. We had the good fortune to see a Yellow-crowned Night Heron in a ditch in Macon County. I had a Prothonotary Warbler light on a bridge railing about ten feet away, and serenade me. We’ve all heard Chuck-will’s-widows, but Pat and I even saw two of them fly over. I also had a landowner inquire rather sharply as to exactly what I was doing in front of his house with binoculars at 5:30 in the morning.

Even so, we were richer for the whole morning.

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