Gainesville Daily Register

June 9, 2012

Publisher's Pen 6-10

Close encounters of the bird kind

By JIM PERRY, Publisher
Gainesville Daily Register

Gainesville — I've had some close encounters of the third kind. For those of you who are familiar with the popular 1977 science fiction movie by Steven Spielberg, a CE3K is defined as an encounter with an animate being of unknown species. In the movie, they're talking about meeting space-aliens. You know, little green men.

In the book by UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek, the author defines encounters one, two, three and four, but says these encounters don't necessarily have to be extraterrestrial in origin. One means you see something flying in the air. Two involves seeing associated physical effects of the sighting. Three is your face-to-face described above and four means abduction. I'm not going there.

With all due respect to Mr. Hynek, I'm more interested in close encounters of the bird kind.

I'm not a card carrying bird watcher, just a nature lover. I love to be outdoors to soak in nature's magnificence. I took advantage of every chance to go hunting as a youngster but after a few minutes of scanning for the occasional grey squirrel, I would just sit back and enjoy the solitude of being silent and observant in nature's cathedral.

Here, in Cooke County, many folks share my love for nature. From the sportsmen to the bird watchers and tree-huggers, we all want to preserve and protect the beauty of our surroundings and enjoy our wonderful rural lifestyle.

A colleague at the paper who lives in the woods said she enjoys close encounters with birds from all across the country as they migrate to her place every year. She has numerous bird feeders and enjoys taking an occasional photo of a particularly interesting bird or a pesky raccoon. She says the birds have a good memory. They stop by to see her on their travels every year.

I live in the country and have always put out the bird feeders when the winter comes. This year I saw my first Bald Eagle in Cooke County. There are numerous local sightings on record. Eagle habitat continues to decline but Arkansas and Texas are still prime nesting areas for the American Bald Eagle every winter.

I had the opportunity to go on an eagle watch at Lake DeGray State Park in Arkansas. We launched our small pontoon boat in search of a rumored eagle nest on one of the islands in this beautiful 14,000 acre lake. An hour and a half later our guide had found it. Two mature Bald Eagles were sighted, one on the nest and the other scouting for food and keeping a watchful eye on us. Out of respect we kept our distance. This was an encounter I'll never forget. I had a nice telephoto lens on my camera and captured the pair in numerous images.

In Florida we lived on the edge of a state-protected habitat. We had lots of birds and heaven knows what else coming through that property. One pre-dawn morning a family of feral pigs, often called wild boars, came into our backyard. My wife Lisa caught a glimpse of them out back and thought some cute Shetland ponies had wandered up. After hearing a couple of threatening snorts, she quickly moved indoors to size up the situation. The wild pigs were regulars after that and routinely destroyed her plants and flower beds with their snouts. I guess they were looking for roots and found some tasty hors d'oeuvre in her garden.

Pigs aside, the lowlands behind that house was a fortress of solitude for wildlife. The area was classified as a mesic hammock which has tall hardwoods, oak, magnolia and Sabal palmetto with islands of floodplain marsh.

One cloudy day I was investigating a rustling in the trees which I heard just beyond my line of sight. Lisa was observing from higher ground to save me from a possible pig attack. Suddenly a Bald Eagle took flight through a small opening in the trees dipping to within a couple of feet of my head. No photos of course, but Lisa had the best view as the magnificent creature hovered effortlessly above my head. The eagle turned and slowly circled the yard to fly back through the opening which looked too small to accommodate her six foot wingspan. I never found the nest but I was confident she lived somewhere in that swamp. After all, the nearby road to the lake was named Eagle's Nest.

Lately, I've been stalking Dogwood Canyon near Lake Ray Bob. There are numerous trails and primitive areas in Lake Ray Roberts State Park. This particular area is a rumored Bald Eagle nesting habitat, with secluded lake coves and waterfowl everywhere. Armed with a water bottle and digital camera, I'll be on the lookout for the Dark-eyed Junco, Goldfinch, Yellow-rumped Warbler and all their fine feathered friends.