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A Bird That Will Make You Swoon

By Charles Kennedy

A note from the author

My association with the characters portrayed in this story has taught me the importance of being constantly vigilant and to always expect the unexpected when observing birds and their activities. This vigilance and open mind has led to the discovery of three species of birds in Lower Alabama that were previously unknown to ornithologists. (see the footnotes at the bottom of this article).  Those of you with a penchant for scientific research may wish to read the results of other projects conducted by myself and my associates in Lower Alabama. Some of our most astonishing discoveries are chronicled in Woodcocks and Brain-sucking Hyenas, a study which sheds much light on the primary reason that the numbers of American Woodcocks are at an all time low.


A Bird That Will Make You Swoon

Two friends of mine are embarked on a singular mission. They are determined to become world class birders. I figure they will make it; at least by the year 2050.

Iíve known Willie and J. C. for many years. As you read this story you will probably think Iím having a laugh at their expense. I am, they would do the same for me.

The three of us grew up in South Alabama in the finest southern tradition. We always said "yes sir" and "yes maíam" to our elders. Still do on the rare occasion when we run into somebody older than us. We were well schooled, especially in using grammatically correct southern English. I remember at our high school graduation party olí J.C. said "yíall ainít really gonna eat Ďem chitlinís1 are you?"

In the summer of 1961 we sailed out on lifeís sea. I went to college to seek the meaning of life. J.C. and Willie acted more sensibly. They went to work. While I was learning to philosophize and write music they were learning to drive tractors, fix leaky faucets, and install electrical wiring. Who would have thought that heavy equipment operators, plumbers, and electricians would be better paid than philosophers and classical musicians.

Willie and J.C. never left the old home town. I didnít stay gone all that long. When I returned I found Willie and J.C. working at "The Lake". The Lake is actually two fishing lakes built in the early 1950ís when the Governor, or somebody, decided that every county in Alabama should have a public fishing lake. The two lakes are still there. They are now surrounded by 100 improved campsites and a multi-million dollar golf course designed by some fellow named Jones. Itís a big deal, but to me and Willie and J.C. itís still "The Lake".

I never did for sure find the meaning of life but somewhere along the way I discovered birds. Thatís been even better. The Lake was (and still is) one of my favorite birding destinations. I visited a couple of days a week with binoculars and bird books. Willie and J.C. noticed right off. They figured that all college had done for me was turn me into a sissy.

Willie got hooked first. I found an Orchard Oriole nest and he was fascinated by it. Pretty soon he and J. C. were taking bird walks with me. They started to pick up birding jargon. J.C. would say "man, just look at all Ďem little brown jobs" (he hasnít forgotten his grammatically correct southern English. Me and Willie ainít neither). Before long they had a life list going. Now The Lake has bird houses and bird feeders from one end to the other.

Through the years Willie and J.C. have provided me with some valuable, and a whole lot of worthless bird information. In August a few years back we were standing beneath a rack of empty gourds. J.C. mused, "seem lak the martins left sorta early this year. Whaíchaíll think about that?"  Willie mumbled, "J.C., you know them martins got a mind of their own. They just come and go as they please."

I was going in the Walmart store one afternoon and heard somebody shouting my name. J.C. came running across the parking lot. "We got one of them "distinct" woodpeckers up to the lake" he said breathlessly. "You know itís one of them thatís stopping folks from cuttiní timber." I asked him what the bird looked like. "Heís black and red and white and about the size of a banty rooster." When you realize that in J.Cís vocabulary "distinct" is synonymous with "extinct" itís not too big a jump to figure out that this was a cross between an Ivory-billed and a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It doesnít bother J.C. that extinct (and even non-existent) birds are pretty hard to see.

Now the good part!  Willie called me one afternoon almost too excited to talk. "Hey boy we got a bird up here at the Lake that you gotta see. The fool thing run across the road and got hit by a motor home headed for the campground. It looks "sorta like a duck". We got Ďim in a box in the tractor shed." I asked him if he knew what kind of bird it was.  "You dang right, itís a Swoon!" 2 I figured this was going to be too good to miss so I left for the lake immediately. We went straight to the tractor shed. Willie opened the box and there he was, a dead Swoon. "He died before we could figure out what to feed him", said J.C. with a tone of sincere apology. I decided to milk this for all it was worth.

I said "Willie I donít see how in the world yíall ever figured out that this was a Swoon." "What, is he rare?" J.C. practically shouted. "Rare ainít the word for it. Unheard of would be closer", I replied. J.C., still screaming said; "See there Willie! See there Willie! I told you this ainít no ordinary bird." Willie confessed. "We didnít figure it out. The game warden come by here and told us what it was." J.C. added, "he said it was a cross between a swan and a loon." I let them know right off that this game warden was good at bird identification because a Swoon is "so rare it ainít even in the bird books". J.C. informed me, "Oh they send Ďem to Game Warden School.3 In they line of work they have to know about such as this."

Willie wanted to know if I had ever seen a Swoon before. "Iím telliní you the truth Willie, in my wildest dreams I never figured I would live long enough to see a Swoon." I went on to tell him that there were probably not more than three people in the United States who had ever seen a live Swoon. I didnít tell him that those three were him and J.C. and the game warden.

J. C. was beside himself over the Swoon. "I bet you gonna write this one in red on your life list ainít you." Willie cut him off, "donít be ridiculous J.C. You know dang well the Audubon Society donít allow you to put no dead bird on your list."

Be advised! Willie and J.C. have the rare bird fever. Theyíre up to the Lake 10 hours a day and theyíre watching. Sooner or later something will turn up. It may not be another Swoon but I guarantee you it will be something "distinct".

Footnotes:

1. Chitlin's - A colloquial name for chitterlings. For those (mainly yankees) who may not be up to speed on Southern cuisine chitterlings are for the most part boiled pig intestines.

2. There are apparently two species of Swoons. The Swoon found at The Lake is the Mallard Loon Swan-swoon (swoonus mallardus). It looks very much like a female Mallard. One distinctive field mark is the neatly clipped flight feathers on the right wing. Since this makes flying somewhat difficult Mallard Loon Swan-swoons find it necessary to run across the road. This foolhardy behavior has caused at least one of them to be run over by a motor home. 

This is not the Swoon that Willie and †J.C. found at The Lake. Theirs looked†much more like a female Mallard.The Loon Swan-swoon (swoonus loonus) is indeed a cross between a swan and a loon. It has been observed only once. The author of this article was encouraged by the discovery of the Mallard Loon Swan-swoon at the Lake to make a dedicated search for other Swoons in the area. He found and photographed (see illustration on left) a Loon Swan-swoon on a beaver pond west of Greenville, Alabama on April 1, 2002.

3. A required course at the Game Warden Academy is "Identifying Birds With Tongue In Cheek".

Other First World Records Discovered by Charles Kennedy

Wigeon Pigeon 
April 1, 2000

Great Horned Toad-Owl

Great Horned Toad-Owl 
April 1, 2001

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