I was off today. With NO motivation to clean the disaster that was my kitchen after the gourmet pizza and snob beer dinner I hosted last night, I was gearing up to head out the door for some birding.
At 8:46am, my phone rang. My good buddy, Kevin, had some words that changed my day in seconds.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Lower Huron Metropark.
By 9:15am, I was on-site and soaking in the view of one of North America's most stunning birds.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are, in a sense, their name. While the long tail feathers are reminiscent of scissors blades, that is not really the "business end" of the bird. The quick snapping bill reenforces their hunting style - "flycatching". Despite the name, it is not limited to flies. Any insect (be it dragonfly, butterfly, grasshopper or beetle) of reasonable size is functionally screwed if one of these birds is in the area. After a a brief flight, they grab the meal out of mid-air and often return to the same perch.
As I sat down tonight to doodle this post on this blog that you all waste your time with, I was struck by something kind of neat. According to my bird notes, my first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was recorded near the McDonald's in Wichita Falls, Texas. The date? April 30, 1992. The two sightings (today's bird and the TX bird) are separated by almost exactly 20 years! Cool.....I think.
While finding them in the land of creepy politicians is not hard, seeing one in Michigan is quite a bit different.
As you can see from the range map below, this bird was just a wee bit from home. Every now and then, however, the species wanders about the Lower 48. There are over 10 records for Michigan, but timing is sooooooo key. Knowing about it is one thing, but getting there in time to see it is completely different. They don't usually linger for long, as I understand it.
So, as it turns out, it was my 349th bird for my Michigan checklist (I was mistaken Mike - I think we are tied) and the 279th bird for my Wayne County (Michigan) list. I have seen this species in eight states - Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, and now Michigan.
Interestingly, it is the state bird of Oklahoma (meaning they are everywhere!), but I have not yet seen one there. Somehow, in my numerous travels through the Sooner State, I've missed it. How? I have no idea.
That should change this summer....
(I would be a complete ass if I did not give credit where credit is due. Nathan Crawford found this bird. Without a phone in the field, he busted a move to the Oakwoods Nature Center (eight miles as the flycatcher flies) where he tracked down Kevin (the Supervising Interpreter). Kevin called me and I was onsite with him shortly thereafter. After the bird's presence was re-established (after all, Nathan had to leave to find Kevin - the bird easily could have fled after that), I sent the word out with emails from the field. People were thanking me throughout the day for doing so. The hat-tip and the beer go to Nathan (for finding it), Kevin (for confirming it and continuing the chain of communication) and Steve Jobs for developing the iPhone. I was just the dork pushing buttons. A smart chimp could have done that!)
(It is also worth noting that my photo is cropped and was taken using a 400mm lens at 50 feet. I realized the bird was working the fence by the road. After
beating up the park police and parking where I damn well please securing permission from park police to park on the wide shoulder , I waited for the bird to move down the fence towards me. Using the car as a blind, I shot a few images. At no point, was I pestering this bird.)