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My Life’s Birds: #346-347

October 14, 2009
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December 22, 1994 – Table Rock Lake, Mo – Birders often seem as though they’re talking in a different language than the rest of the population.  Sure, there’s the jargon that comes along with discussion of the finer points of bird identification.  Talk of tertials and primaries and coverts.  The lore of lores, if you will.  But there’s also birding sites, and most birders can get a lot of mileage from talking about the Lower Rio Grande Valley or Point Pelee, the attraction of which is unquestioned by anyone with a pair of binoculars even if the general population doesn’t grasp the appeal of the rainy May morning spent on the shore of Lake Eire. All of this mostly goes without saying among our community.  But even some birds, by virtue of their novelty and predictability, become part of the vocabulary.  For certain individual birds, birders won’t talk about whether you saw a something or other, but whether you saw the something or other.  They, too, become a way to standardize our birding experience when sharing with other like-minded individuals.  I was fortunate enough to be just down the road from one such bird, who provided a particularly memorable tick for just about every birder in Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Kansas for several years.  You see, I saw the Table Rock Yellow-billed Loon.

Yellow-billed LoonYellow-billed Loons are pretty fantastic birds anyway, mysterious visitors from the far north.  Nearly every reservoir in the continental US hosts its share of Common Loons every winter, but every time any of us puts glass to a presumptive loon on any body of water you’ve got it in the back of your mind to look twice for that huge banana bill, held at a jaunty angle almost as a smirk.  It’s a bird that, by any means, shouldn’t be in the midwest at all, let alone in a reservoir not 20 miles from the unquestionably southern state of Arkansas.  But from when it was originally discovered in the winter of 1990 to at least 1997 there was a Yellow-billed Loon, and presumably the same bird, returned to Table Rock Lake every winter where it could be observed at leisure from the Table Rock State Park boat ramp.  I was far from the only Missouri birder to witness this bird.  Heck, I’m not even the only bird blogger to have basked in its loony goodness.  This was undoubtedly one famous bird, and while a small handful of additional Yellow-billed Loons have been found in Missouri since the Table Rock bird finally stopped coming, all of them in the far north of the state, when Missouri birders (as well as those from Arkansas and eastern Kansas) talk about Yellow-billed Loons, they talk about this one.

The experience was so profound, I nearly forget the Greater Scaup among the Lessers we also found in the fish hatchery ponds below the hydroelectric dam.  A good bird in itself, but no Yellow-billed Loon.

photo from wikipedia

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4 Comments
  1. Greg permalink
    October 14, 2009 6:46 pm

    Could your date be one month off? I was looking at Barksdale’s video clips of the bird at http://macaulaylibrary.org/video/flashPlayer.do?id=50020
    specifically and
    watched many clips of the same bird at http://networkedblogs.com/p14582445
    He recorded the clips in November. Anyway, a great birding moment!

  2. Nate permalink*
    October 14, 2009 6:52 pm

    @Dad- I don’t think so. That winter the bird was present from November to at least January of 95. I don’t have any reason to think we went for it in November, especially since the Greater Scaup was on the same day.

    I think I remember making the trip after school. It was darkish, though it could have been the weather, which was overcast.

  3. October 14, 2009 10:58 pm

    Ahhh, wonderful to re-experience the Yellow-billed Loon of Table Rock Lake. I had a lot of fun writing up my experience (and thanks for the link!), equally enjoyable to hear your tale. Don’t you wish digiscoping was prevalent back then?
    -Mike

  4. Nate permalink*
    October 15, 2009 10:02 am

    @Mike- No doubt, I would have loved to get a series of blurry, barely recognizable images to help jog the experience. 🙂

    I remember standing on the boat ramp watching the bird through the scope, I only wish I remembered it better.

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