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, and perhaps a foot or two. There are birds nest, and then there
are birds nests. We had the good fortune to see a Orchard Orioles 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 Orioles 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 Orioles nest, and it hung down probably 20 inches, like a pendulum, from
a tree in my aunts yard in Weatherford, Texas. It too had no
stray parts. It truly looked like a ladys
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. Weve all heard Chuck-wills-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.