The bird trip that I signed up for the ABA Convention really delivered the birds. Although, I had never birded this area so most of the birds we saw were lifers and I was easy to please. The redstarts, bridled titmice, hepatic tanagers, and sulpher-bellied flycatchers were cool, but I'm a raptor chick at heart so Bill Thompson helping me get a lifer zone-tailed hawk was a high fiving moment and to cap off the trip our leader Al Hays drove by an area and got us a surprise look at a really cool adult gray hawk.
We had one Funny Guy on our trip (a true gentleman from Kentucky who for the life of me I can't remember his name) and I am incredibly indebted to him for the loan of toilet paper when we came to a horrifically dirty port-a-potty. At one point, someone in our group shouted, "Trogon just flew over the road!" We all darted back ready to aim our binoculars towards the bird. Movement to our left, a bird popped up into the higher branches of tree, we froze and discreetly tried to see what it was, was it a trogon, could it possibly...no! I was some blasted flycatcher. The group laughed at itself for freezing in unison and carefully turning towards the would be trogon that ended up being a flycatcher of some sort. Funny Guy grabbed his chest a la Fred Sanford shouting, "Oh, Elizabeth, it's the big one."
The highlight of the day were hummingbirds, which I was surprising more interested in than I anticipated. We even managed a hummingbird rescue of sorts. While birding along a road near where we had parked our leader was trying to pish out some birds. We all noticed a metallic chip call but couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from. After much searching I found a hummingbird nest (a first for me) and we speculated if there was a chick inside chipping. The rest of our group was trying to find the nest and as many know, it's hard enough just trying to describe where a small brown bird is, a nest the size of a walnut is even harder. Some members of the group just could not find the nest to save their life, so Funny Guy announced he had a fool proof way of finding a nest. As the members quickly gathered around him, Funny Guy gasped. At his toe was a teeny tiny hummingbird chick (pictured above), on the ground directly under the nest. How we didn't step on it as we were milling about looking for the nest, I will never know. The chick was the bird making the metallic chip note that we had been trying to figure out.
Of course my raptor rescue mode kicked in and I came up with what I thought was a brilliant plan of driving over our van directly under the nest, someone climbing on top of it and placing the chick back in the nest. Our field trip leader would have none of it. I'm sure there was a liability issue, but the chick's peeping set off my maternal hormones (curse anthropomorphism and everything it stands for) and I just wanted to help it. The trip leader made an attempt at that's the way nature is but I tried to reason that wouldn't it make a great story that one of the field trip groups at the ABA Convention helped a broad-tailed hummingbird chick back in the nest. It was clearly too young to be out of the nest, the flight feathers hadn't developed yet so it was not a matter of early fledging. I didn't see anything like feather mites so didn't see the harm in putting it back in. Alas, the trip leader would have none of it.
I placed the chick on a rock in the shade and I did see a hummingbird fly over in its direction so it was noticed, hopefully by the female that was feeding it. We continued on with our trip when a truck from Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, Inc. pulled up. I flashed a smile and they pulled over and asked about the birds we were seeing. I asked if they would happen to have a ladder as there was a hummingbird chick a little ways back that needed to be put back in the nest and that all we needed was something about as tall as their vehicle for someone to stand on to get it back in the nest. They didn't have a ladder but were happy to lend us the use of their truck. The gentlemen backed their truck up right under the nest, and one of the tallest members in our group, Dave Muret of Grove, OK (right) climbed on top of the cab was able to grab the branch pull it down and drop the hummingbird chick back into the nest. It was a wonderful group effort (photo of rescue group).
I have struggled the last twenty four hours whether to include the actual ending to this tale, because it seems so perfect to end it there. However, I stick to my motto of putting things in this blog that I would find interesting and the actual end of the story would definitely be something that I would want to read.
After we finished our hike and were returning to the parking area we discovered that the chick fell out of the nest again and got crushed. Here is a prime example of nature weeding out the ones that aren't going to survive. I was talking with Bill Thompson and Pretty Boy Bouton about what would have caused this and it could have been the nest wasn't properly built or that ants or mites were all over in the nest making in uncomfortable for the chick forcing it to get out of the nest. Who knows. I thought of all the times I have told customers who are upset about hawks flying in for birds at the feeder or about nests that various predators had eaten in their yards, about how that is the way nature works and how nature can be cruel but that's how it ensures the strongest and best will survive. I hate it when I forget to follow my own advice. Well, we gave it the old college try and nature gave the final decision.