Ok, so I buttonholed a nature photographer. I feel entitled to buttonhole photographers. First, I am hardly holding on to a buttonhole to keep a photographer listening. I'm fairly engaging. Second, I often find them gigs and opportunities. Today, I was enjoying a picnic lunch on the shore of the Thornapple River, making sandwiches from groceries picked up at Trader Joe's. A photographer and his assistant came off the John Henry trail that passes through Middleville and continues along the Thornapple River. "How's the wildlife"? He kept walking with his telephoto lens and tripod, smiled, and said, "Good". "The area is known for woodpeckers. Not quite the Lord God bird, but more woodpeckers than average". He knew I was talking about the rarest of woodpeckers, the Ivory-Billed. The rumor that an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker had been spotted in the swamps of Arkansas set off a shockwave through the birding world. Locals put up billboards celebrating the rare bird. Ornithologists searched the swamps for confirmation and found none. Clues encountered in the Florida panhandle encouraged without confirming the bird's existence. The two walked over close. I was talking the language. "Springtime, Middleville throws a Woodpecker festival". I know this because a friend designed the logo. She left to study painting at the academy in Philadelphia. "Get any good shots"? "Nah, I had returned to shoot snowy egrets today, but I couldn't find them again". A dam on the Thornapple River at Middleville once powered looms and a flour mill. The dam now impounds a complex of backwater bayous that the locals have allowed to go natural. The locals just keep continuing the river trail further and further south. "Wow, the snowy egret is out of its range. Found any Sandhill Cranes"? "I've heard them. Can't find them". Drive along the road to Yankee Springs. Wheat fields in stubble have at least one couple. I don't know if the flock gathers this late in summer". He didn't know that Sandies were tribal, gathering in flocks at night for protection. Same place every year. The state put up bleachers at a state park in Pulaski County, Indiana. That's why we talk. To share our stoke, even if we are talking birding instead of surfing. "Hey, I don't want to buttonhole you". "It's okay. Where was that winery near the crane gathering"? "It's east of Jackson near the state prison. Called Sandhill Crane Winery. Worth a stop for a sip". I wondered if the two took off to follow up on the Sandies. I continued onto Yankee Springs State Recreation Area and found one of my favorite boat launches a mile back from the Chief Noonday Road. It was noon when I arrived but now it's dinner time. I don't have fishing equipment to try my luck in the small lake with all the leaping fish. I heard two birds in conversation, the bird song a repeated note. The note sounded like the first second of a tea kettle going off. The bird in the mature trees above me must have been moved by what was said. The wide wing span carried the excited bird on several gyres over the lake. It looked like a blue heron but how could that be. I've always seen Blue Herons flying direct, no nonsense paths. I saw one fishing in a rainwater lagoon on Michigan 6 near the Armand Merizon property today. Blue Herons fish. They are shoreline birds that stand in water. Can the heron also stand on a tree limb and sing? Plus, Blue Herons build rookeries of log cabin nests in the upper reaches of dead trees killed by standing water. These are clearly marked by naturalists to keep hikers and motorized vehicles away from the vital nests. I haven't noticed a sign of a rookery.
One of my friends has what it takes to be a great bird photographer. She must have the Doctor Doolittle talent, the ability to talk to the animals. When she kayaks with camera in tow, loons swim around her craft, even taking dives under her boat. Maybe she can solve this afternoon's riddle. How did I meet her? Well, I didn't buttonhole her, but .....
Male Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Believed to be extinct in the 1960-70's in the United States, but found in Cuba in 1980's. Photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service. Watercolored black-and-white photo.
Black and white version published in 1935, photographed by Arthur A. Allen.