Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: scissor-tailed flycatcher

“Scissor-Tailed Flycather! Killdeer!”

It seems to have become a full-on habit, to call out the names of birds I see while driving. It’s like my own personal version of Tourette’s syndrome. The kids have taken to critiquing my performance. “That wasn’t as loud as you could yell, Mama.” And most of the time they don’t catch a glimpse before we’re on down the road, though the scissor-tailed flycatcher that flew in front of the windshield yesterday gave us all a lovely view of the stripes on his tail.

I get most excited about the more interesting birds, such as the said scissor-tail, which has a relatively small range, and isn’t seen many places in the US. I’ve never found any good footage of the scissor-tail in flight, even though it is the state bird of Oklahoma.

You regulars know how fond I am of turkey vultures, which are quite common and widespread in North America. But just the other day we were talking about the return of bald eagles from near-extinction, and it occurred to me that perhaps my failure to pay attention wasn’t the only reason I never saw turkey vultures when I was growing up in Emporia, just twenty miles down the highway from where I see them every day now. Their populations were hit hard by DDT contamination, like other raptors. Their numbers have increased steadily since DDT was banned in 1972, when I was five years old. So I remain unapologetically thrilled when I see them gliding above the highway, and, besides writing poetry about turkey vultures, I do not hesitate to shout out their name when I see them from a vehicle.

The kids are also used to my shouts of “Blue heron!” and “Red-winged blackbird!” and “Franklin’s gull!” We finally got my car’s air conditioner repaired, so no one outside the vehicle is likely to hear. But if you see me driving by, look to see if I’m pointing and shouting, and maybe you’ll get to see it too, whatever it is.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here's a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here’s a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

Autumn Settling In

The weather has suddenly cooled. Today was lovely, sunny and mild, but the nights are chilly, and I’ve had to put another quilt on the bed.

Gulls have been making their semi-annual appearance. It’s been over a week since I saw the first, a group of perhaps a couple dozen; today I saw but one couple. They may be the last stragglers.

Turkey vultures are restless. I can feel that they will leave soon.

I saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher yesterday. I was surprised that it was still here. But, the scissor-tail’s migration is a fraction of the vultures’ so maybe they’re not in a hurry to leave.

I looked in the cabinet today and was surprised how many beans I have there. It’s almost as if I’ve unconsciously stored up for winter. Perhaps it’s possible after all for humans to follow the subtle promptings of the seasons, if we allow ourselves, and if we immerse ourselves in the sensory ocean of the natural world.

Why not dive in and see how it changes you?

Spotted in the Flint Hills in the Last Week

This year for the fourth time I spent mid-May commuting to White Memorial Camp, north of Council Grove. It’s a bit of a drive, but mostly on National Scenic Byway, KS 177. The remainder is gravel, through pastures to the end of a little peninsula surrounded by Council Grove lake. I go there for a job, which is to massage the attendees of Kelley Hunt and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s wonderful Brave Voice songwriting workshop and retreat. It’s a beautiful group whom I love to work with. The bonus is that this remote drive has incredible diversity of wildlife, particularly birds. So every year I am equally excited to do this job as to get there and back. Here’s a list of the many species I saw, most without even getting out of the car.

Butterfly milkweed, not yet blooming.
Wild blue indigo, in luscious bloom.
Cobaea beardtongue, plentiful this year.
Daisy fleabane, blooming rather early, I believe.
Lots of Arkansas rose.

several scissor-tailed flycatchers
one turkey
dozens of turkey vultures
one nighthawk
lots of killdeer
brown-headed cowbirds
meadowlarks
Franklins gulls
barn swallows
kingbirds
one indigo bunting, which thoughtfully landed in a tree in easy view. I actually stopped the car for this one.
redwing blackbirds
upland sandpipers

rat snake
yellow-bellied racer
five-lined skink
The last two reptiles were here at the motel, but I love them so much I didn’t want to leave them off the list.

Since I was a child I’ve wanted to see a zebra swallowtail butterfly, but never did, until this week.

And mustn’t forget — this one doesn’t belong on my list because I didn’t personally see it, but several of the musicians saw a mountain lion, and got pictures. Don’t tell Fish and Wildlife, they still don’t want to admit that mountain lions are in Kansas.

Quick hello to gulls passing through; nod to scissor-tailed flycatcher, here for the summer

Saw the gulls today, circling low over a pasture.

Also saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus, only present in a few parts of North America, only in the warm seasons. Here’s some basic info on this striking summer denizen of the prairie. Video footage of scissor-tails in flight is hard to find, but there’s some here, if you can tolerate the folksy narrative.

On the symbolic significance of the scissor-tailed flycatcher, my usual source, Ted Andrews, is, as far as I can find, silent. Perhaps he hasn’t met one. Shaman Mark Diercker suggests the scissor-tail might teach graceful evasion. I suspect also exquisite skill in capturing prey in flight. Have you seen scissor-tails? Have you studied them? Have they spoken to you of their journeys over Mexico to the great Central American isthmus; have they brought you a message?

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