Noah and I went birding this weekend. Well, not really birding, per se, though I had my binoculars and my field notebook and I was dutifully recording what I heard. It’s hard to go birding in the south in the summer. It’s hot and buggy and the birds are hidden behind lush greenery or tucked into their silent season of nesting and fledging. Besides, what Noah and I do is not entirely birding anyway. I sold him on the trip to go look for snakes, though we missed those too. Lately I’ve just been calling it “adventuring”, and playing to his toddler’s sense of novelty. We look for everything, and everything - a snail half out of its shell, a pond turtle crossing the road, a half-ripe wild blackberry bush – is an opportunity to take a second and look around. At least until he gets tired of walking and he perches on my shoulders and we complete the loop while singing Johnny Cash songs. At that point the birding slows down.
I don’t know if this is successfully making him a birder. That’s not necessarily my goal here. I want him to appreciate being outdoors and recognize that there are interesting things to find out there. I want him to be excited about “adventuring”. Whether that actually happens may remain to be seen, but even if the actual adventure is bogged down by the ever-changing needs and the every-wavering attention spans of a toddler, the memories still seem to be positive after the fact. He retains knowledge. He talks about things we see. Maybe that’s enough for now.
In any case, the coolest thing we found that day was not, in fact, a bird, the cool birds having booked out a month ago. Rounding a corner into a field I saw a big bug buzzing around the flowers. My initial thought was Hummingbird Clearwing moth, as size and shape were about right but the flight style was not as crisp. The bug veered towards me and with one mighty swat I knocked the thing out of the air and onto the ground in front of me. I was pretty stoked when I saw what it was.
It’s a Giant Stag Beetle, also called Elephant Stag Beetle, and at just over 3 inches long, one of the largest beetles in North America. It was only the second one I’d ever seen in my life, the first being an individual I smuggled out of overnight camp in a soap container when I was 12. That bug was destined for my then award winning insect collection (which I still have packed away at home). This live one was cooler, though Noah was a little freaked out by it. Not that I can blame him, it’s an intimidating looking insect, even if it’s mostly harmless.
We didn’t find much else, though a Red-eared Slider crossing the road was a nice, if introduced and invasive, herp experience, and the blackberry snack break was a memorable stop. We’ll try again next time. So far, so good.