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My Life’s Birds: #31-37

November 28, 2007
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JUNE 4, 1993 – to Gulfport, MS – Road Trip! Looking back on my childhood I realize how fortunate I was that my parents were both public school teachers. Not only did it give me a profound respect for education, especially public education, but it meant that when the final class bell rang at the end of May we were outta there, off on a vacation to some far-flung locale to brush off the last vestiges of the long school year. For several years we went to Florida, drawn originally by its abundant theme parks and long white beaches, but eventually, at least in the case of my dad and me, by the accessible avian assemblage it offers. And so it was the same this year, we left Missouri and made the long first day drive to Gulfport, Mississippi.

 

Birding by car is a difficult proposition. You don’t have the luxury of a lengthy view to puruse relevant field marks. You either have to put a name to a shadow on the fly or wait until you stop and look around. It was with the second case with my first lifer of the trip, the House Sparrows congregating around a Hardy, Arkansas, gas station. A good start for the trip? Eh, I guess so.

Black Vulture

by dianeham via flickr

Highway birding brought me a Black Vulture, one of several we’d see along the interstate in Mississippi. It wasn’t until we got closer to the coast that I began seeing new birds. The grand old bird of the south, the Northern Mockingbird, sat on every object that rose higher than six feet off the ground, be it natural or manmade. Fish Crows croaked a greeting as we wove past the casinos and beachfront hotels that characterize the towns of Biloxi and Gulfport. But it was the beach we wanted and once we checked into the hotel we’d stay the night in, we hit it.

 

Black Skimmer

photo from wikipedia

Gulfport has an large stretch of the beach roped off for nesting seabirds. In 1993 it held Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and the ever-present Laughing Gulls. It was here I learned my first important bird lesson, one that would stick with me to this day. As a young go-getter, excited about the possibilities that acres of nesting seabirds present, I walked out towards the birds to potentially get a better look. The birds swarmed around, a cacophony of calls as they whipped closer and closer to my head. I was enthralled. Skimmers are incredible birds, especially close up, it’s really amazing how thin vertically that bill is, but I digress, I was getting perhaps a bit too near. It was then I learned what happens to “predators” that venture too close to a seabird colony. It smells badly.

We had to put that t-shirt in a plastic bag, it wasn’t fit for human apparel. Lesson learned, dear reader(s).
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