I've kind of transitioned in the last year or so to do less surveys and more writing and giving programs. I love bird survey work, but it's taxing physically both on your body and your time. Basing each week on airports and storms is less exciting as I get older. Spending times in airports over 30 weeks in a year makes it hard to connect with friends. Sure, there is social media, but that's not the same as being there for, "Hey, I had a bad day, can we grab a drink tonight or breakfast tomorrow?"
A common question I get from friends who knew about my shift in careers is, "Do you miss the travel?"
No, partially because I will never stop traveling. I'm just more selective about the types of travel I will do now. That's not to say that there won't be things I miss. I love point counts and I think that's why I'm drawn to big sits (if you're going to be around the Twin Cities, my park is hosting one on April 30) or simply working my patch over by my house. You have an idea of what will be there but it really takes just staying in one spot over and over to get the big picture.
Also, just sitting in one spot gives birds and animals a chance to get used to you and in some cases, come over and check out you out. And some of my best birding moments have been on bird surveys.
I've always had a fondness for roadrunners since I was kid. It may have been because there was a cartoon roadrunner on tv or that my grandparents lived in New Mexico and it was their state bird. I even had a carved roadrunner that played "Kind of the Road" when you wound it up. As a kid I remember thinking that if there were Smurfs in the desert southwest, I bet they'd tame roadrunners and ride them.
When my family took a road trip out in New Mexico, my parents would periodically say from the front seat of the car, "Oh, there goes a roadrunner." Being the youngest sitting in the middle seat in back and being super short, I never got to see them. I thought this incredibly unfair since I would be the one most interested in seeing one. I never really got a great look at a roadrunner as a kid. We stopped someplace for a bathroom break and one ran away from us, but nothing like the quality time one can get with a cardinal.
Throughout the years when I've been in range of roadrunners, I've had flashes while driving or watched one scurry in backyards, but just not time to hang out with a roadrunner and really get some great shots. With some birds, I lament as they stay out of reach, but I also realize that at some point I'll get an opportunity, I just need to be patient and wait.
I finally had my roadrunner moment last summer.
One morning I started my first survey spot, unwrapped my gas station taco and pressed start on my stopwatch to start my point counts. Dickcissels were waking up all around me and then I heard a familiar cooing. It was the coo of a greater roadrunner...and it sounded like it was ten feet away. I froze and scanned to my left where there was a tangle of mesquite.
Sure enough, about fifteen feet away was a greater roadrunner singing away. It was not bothered by me at all. The bird was so close I could only get head shots. After a few minutes, I stepped back away to see if I could get a full body shot.
As I watched the roadrunner sing I thought back to when I was in third grade. My parents moved me to a Catholic school mid-year. It was the first day and our teacher was discussing the desert. She asked the class if we could name animals that didn't need a lot of water so they could live in dry climates. I raised my hand and answered roadrunner. She smiled and said, "No, those only exist in Cartoon Land."
She immediately moved on to another student but I couldn't believe she didn't know about roadrunners. The next morning before school I gathered up my National Geographic Field Guide with the roadrunner page bookmarked, my Wonder of Birds book that had a cool series of roadrunner pictures of the adults killing a lizard and feeding it to their chicks, my collection of state bird stamps that included the stamp for New Mexico that had a roadrunner on it, and a tourist brochure for New Mexico that had a picture of a roadrunner on it. I waited until lunchtime and went to the teacher's lounge--it was a different world then, the teacher's lounge door was open so you could see your teachers smoking and if you needed to, you could come in and ask a question. I went in with all of my birding paraphernalia and up to my new third grade teacher who was talking to the Sister Elizabeth the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Stahl the social studies teacher and the principal Mr. Greer.
"Hi Mrs. Meyers," I said, "I just wanted to let you know that roadrunners do live in real life and they're the state bird of New Mexico." I opened my books and showed the pictures. "I can see why you might be confused, they're not blue like in Bugs Bunny, they're really brown and sometimes people call them the chaparral cock."
Mrs. Meyers nodded, said she had things to do and left the lounge. I was not her favorite student after that. But it turned out ok, the fourth grade teacher was a nun with a stern reputation. She was also a birder and Sister Elizabeth and I got along just fine when I hit fourth grade. She even gave me a Forebush/May book on the final day of fourth grade.
Anyway, here's a little video that I got of the roadrunner. You might need headphones to hear the call. iPhones don't have the best microphones and the soft call of a roadrunner is going to be overpowered by dickcissels singing away.