Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Birding Mystery Solved and Word Verification

I'm saddened to say that because of a high number of spam comments recently I've decided to turn on word verification. I was having to delete lots of comments that were clearly spam and this just makes it simpler for me. It will make leaving comments a bit more cumbersome but hopefully not too bad. Sorry about the inconvenience.

My big excitement for the night was that I finally figured out a birding mystery that has been plaguing me for the last two and a half years. Yeah apparently I get a bit obsessive. Anyway. In 2008, Jeff and I went on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate the end of my masters program. It was a very nice trip but I came back with a picture of a bird that really bothered me. It involved an injured bird that I couldn't identify. It was one of the saddest and most interesting day of the cruise for me. And so the bird nagged at me. Until today.

The day we arrived in Belize, Jeff and I had had it. We had been busy and constantly moving for many days now and we were tired and snipping at each other. Not exactly relaxing. Jeff wanted to stay on the boat rather then tender to shore. I reluctantly agreed. I had wanted to see Belize but I was also a bit tired and not sure I wanted to explore by myself. So we parked ourselves on the deck chairs in the sun and relaxed. He worked on a puzzle book and I wrote. Until we noticed movement under some of the deck chairs not far away.

This was our first image of the little guy. He was hiding under the chairs, trying to pull himself up. We didn't want to spook him so we didn't get close. Instead I pulled up a chair a distance away and sketched him. We watched him for about an hour. I made sure no one went too close. Finally when we decided that he wasn't going to be able to escape on his own, we made the agonizing decision to call one of the deck stewards. The crew arrived and gently removed the bird. I remember crying a bit as they took him away since I didn't know what they were going to do with him. I was distracted and sad the rest of the day. But I also realized that the reason I had been so tired and cranky before was that I was missing birds and animals (there aren't many on cruises). I'm incredibly biophiliac. It was wonderful to be so close to a beautiful creature even though I still have no idea what happened to him.

When I came home, I scoured through my bird books and some bird websites, trying to figure out what type of bird it was. I figured it was a juvenile so that made it a bit trickier. The feet were pretty identifiable but I still came up empty. I checked all over with no luck. I even contacted the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology but chickened out before sending them any photos. So it became a mystery. Most of the time I didn't think about it but occasionally I would go back and see what I could find.

This evening I went out birding with my parents. We saw blue-winged teals and an adorable pied-billed grebe. I went to mark them off in my North American Field Guide when I decided to again look for my mystery bird. I was obviously blind. I'm not sure how I missed it before. I flipped the pages and then, as if by magic, the page dropped open. It's an immature Purple Gallinule. It's a perfect example, in the right place. The gallinule is apparently pretty common. I had just been missing the page or something. So my mystery bird is no longer a mystery. Although the fate of that particular individual will never be answered. My hope, naive perhaps, is that it was tendered to shore and given to a local wildlife rehabber. At least that's the story that helps me sleep at night.


badhousewife said...

such a nice feeling finally knowing exactly what you saw! I used to collect stamps with my grandfather, and I remember the day I discovered the country of origin of a few stamps we'd struggled with for months (we looked through books and maps old school style)your post just brought that feeling back! mmm! thanks!

Cat B said...

It is wonderful to finally have some closure on a mystery that's been bothering you. I love stamps. I should probably collect them. I'm glad you had such a wonderful hobby with your grandfather. I love to hear stories about crossing generations.

msmariah said...

What a neat little bird. I don't think I've ever seen one like that.

Cat B said...


I hadn't seen one either. I thought it was such an incredible bird that I had to find out what it was. So cute!!!