30 December 2011

A Carter Lake Birder's Christmas Story

It was the day before Christmas on another visit to Carter lake, where a big bunch of fowl swan upon some water, all free of ice.

The weather was fine and not too cold, which made a day's outing via bicycle not even quite bold.

Pedal by pushed pedal — one after another with more or less of a delay — one birder made his way, along the trail in the east Omaha park where temperate winter conditions held sway. Juncos or starling and other songbirds — including woodpeckers — were few, but soon the fowl gathering could be seen without any doubt, prominent further along the lakeside route.

Fowl of several sorts swan about with glee, on the small portion of water which was ice-free. It was a suitable haven, which any visiting bird watcher could readily see.

There were grebes and an abundance of geese. Coots and canvasbacks continued to as they had for many previous days; mallards and goldeneye among the ruddys and redheads. And not to be forgotten were the other sorts of ducks, including a few ring-necked and scaup and many more shovelers stopped along their way.

At a park point one bird-watcher sat, eyeing the waterfowl with a gaze intent like an owl. Binoculars and out-dated field guides were his tools, and if anyone might think he was not bird-watching, they would certainly be a fool.

Floyd sat in the sun watching bird behavior, during one stop along his day's walk, a route which usually did not waver. The park and its birds were there to enjoy, away from the shelter with people and noise.

Another birder came and sat nearby, asking upon arrival: "Have you seen anything exciting?"

"Not really," was the apparently slow reply. The two birdmen continued to gaze upon the lake scene, but did strike up an active dialogue about birds and their ways.

Have you seen any grebes? Did you notice the ring-necked ducks, with their multi-color bills? The large and distinct Canvasbacks are surely a joy, as mild weather has kept them around. Some diminutive Pied-billed Grebes continue to be present though late in the season, diving for food at the lake, recently renovated. On this day there were no small geese.

The tally for the day was similar to the notations of previous days. Numbers changed but the species of lake fowl remained the same.

Unseasonal golfers at shore of Carter Lake.

For the new watcher of birds, his route followed a regular routine ... from the Omaha riverfront, to Freedom Park and onward to Carter Lake's edge, then back to North Downtown. He had only been birding about a year. Bird watching was a pastime away from the noise and crowd of somewhere else, and important in a day's routine. Sitting lakeside was a preferred way to wile away some hours.

Upon inquiry, Floyd said he would walk further about the park, visiting the north pond to see if cardinals or other birdlife was about, or if some juncos or sparrows might be heard without doubt.

After counting the fowl in the usual way, the cyclist left to ride further for this particular day. A visit to Adams Park held sway.

Three days after Christmas — a mid-day Wednesday — the cyclists route once again went along the urban lake, derived from an interest in the lake's fowl that could not be slaked. Few song birds there were, but the waterfowl numbers were still quite fine.

Weather was temperate for late December, languid under mostly clear skies, with comfortable temps, nearly in the fifties.

After some time of bicycle riding, into view came a few acres of water that continued to be a fowl's haven, enjoyed by two guys, with one a bird maven.

Coots swam about and fed in a spree. Newly arrived Cackling Goose could be heard and readily seen. An adult Bald Eagle sat on the ice, feeding on a carcass for which it was not nice. Many other waterbirds were gathered on the lake, with its available features they did partake.

The setting was quite serene, until there came there come some disturbance upon the scene.

Up on the shore, there rose with a clatter, a bunch of Canada geese leaving, having been made to scatter as some walkers did not consider how their presence might matter. In the blue they did fly, soon landing back on the lake, after settling from the sky

On these warm days, some people came with their own intentions, creating a vivid disturbance which established a setting which was not quite the same as normal. Dogs not on a leash wildly ran around, causing great disturbance to the grazing geese, apparent in the scape sound. An ignorant with a cell phone clicked away, and then walked to the swings.

The result of the intruders was quite obvious, though the people which caused the situation where oblivious.

Into the air flew many ducks and the geese, which had formerly been resting with ease. For one bird watcher trying to conduct a count, it was a situation which did not please.

Suddenly due to two foreign-looking men at the beach, the biggest disturbance of all they did breach. A motor-driven boat they brought to the water, was a dramatic disturbance to the fowl, and the species did not matter.

Away flew the geese. Gadwall and others did flee, wanting a place that was much more serene. A nice view of the ducks the two birders could no longer see.

The troubling play motorboat and operators at Carter Lake, December 28, 2011.

The troubling play motorboat — as intentionally operated — bothering Canada geese Carter Lake, December 28, 2011.

Into action one birder did go — after a quick quip of a certain sort — to confront the cause of the matter. With quick pedals for a relative short distance, a confrontation with two guys with a subdued yet certain stance.

Words were spoken back and forth. Why bother the birds? There is no law against having a boat! Though from the birders perspective that perhaps should be left for a vote. The remote-control boat was harassing the fauna, an act in violation of federal laws. They pulled the toy from the water's edge, after senseless words of protest, even asking if pictures had been taken. This particular item was not an action unforsaken. They drove away in a white pickup truck with Nebraska plates, their departure closely watched with intent. Perhaps they will consider there actions henceforth, as they probably do not want to contend with enforcers of law of a federal sort, with results they might lament.

A subsequent few moment later — after one birder inquired why a dog was not on its leash and should enforcers be called — a quiet time among the Browne Street Woods thence followed. The brushy habitat this day conveyed only one bright red cardinal of an appreciated sort.

At the east edge of the park pond, the bird men convened once again, to talk in an obtuse way about what had happened. The bigger interest was about owl pellets and what they convey. Well, that would depend, one of the two did say. A pellet might convey a history of bones, but more especially if there are many, rather than one alone. The object was found beneath some small lakeside trees, eastward of the park's so-called meadow in the making.

A jawbone could indicate a mammal's id, but a group would indicate the species eaten, you would be able to see. Break apart the pellets for further study, to convey an owl's preference to eat. Considerations of the contents of owl pellets are a regular feature of birder studies.

During the interlude, some few details about Floyd were derived, before the cyclist continued on the day's ride. A homeless man, he lived in a shelter. Suggestions were provided where he might learn more about local birds or perhaps ask questions, using online resources available the public library. Learn and share were options which could not compare.

After the cyclist left the lake, the route continued to a park with a lagoon.

At Fontenelle Park, there were hundreds of Canada goose gathered about. They have a preference for this place, without a doubt. During a walk-around, they were all attentive, expressing their view with many a sound. Only a few flew into the air, flying and landing with their typical flair.

After a count of the gathered birds, the birder departed after using an available stick to remove remnants of droppings spread across the grass. The green stuff stuck to the bike's tires.

While pedaling south along the boulevard, thoughts of a possible holiday giving did not go away.

Further on, the thought was unknowingly expressed by some young man walking by the street, who say a sight.

"Hello Santa," he loudly expressed to a red-coat-clad, bearded bicyclist riding along the sidewalk. The situation was obvious, and was continued on this Wednesday evening.

After supper in a warm, safe place, and following a phone call, an indirect drive — in a car rather than upon a bicycle — was made to the shelter on Nicholas Street, at 17th.

Where was Floyd? Last name not known.

Go to that building across the street, with a helpful worker pointing the way.

At the desk, the inquiry was: Is Floyd here, the guy with a beard that likes to look at birds?

"He's doing laundry." After some minutes when Floyd arrived, it was not the right man. He was too tall with and without enough beard.

Another inquiry meant a walk through the dining room, each table completely full on this winter's night in December. A worker sort of knew a Floyd but he was not the right man.

After looking further, someone seemed appropriate but his name was not Floyd, after being asked.

Just about when it seemed time to leave the maelstrom of mostly men seeking a warm respite for another winter's night, the right Floyd came down the hall, obvious in his green-colored stocking cap and recognizable day's attire. It was certainly one of the birdmen of Carter Lake.

After a brief hello, he was given the items gathered to give as a holiday present, primarily a current bird guide issued by the Smithsonian, preferable to the 1960s and 1970s versions he'd been using. Another book about long-gone birds with feathers was also presented, along with three readily available copies of a book about the birds of the untamed west, as presented for Nebraska.

Some cash, provided by a sister and mother, was also included, and mutely appreciated.

In the new year of 2012, the two bird men might meet again in a subtle, shared bond of interest in the fowl splendors of Carter Lake! Whatever, the essence of this lake has been established with no uncertain certitude.

The preeminence of the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary continues, as represented by bird enthusiasts on the shore of Carter Lake during the end of December, 2011.