If you think this post is a review of Kenn Kaufman’s book Kingbird Highway:The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder, then you will be disappointed. Well, not really disappointed because this post still has some darn good birding it. Maybe some day I’ll find the time to read Kaufman’s book and do that review, but for now this little kingbird anecdote will have to do.
Tonight I went out on a solo birding mission. It was a gorgeous evening as we hit a daytime high of 79° with no wind and clear skies. That rarely happens here. Just last week Evan has his track and field day at school and the kiddos were wearing hats, gloves, and winter coats. Anyway, I had to get out tonight. Both kids declined my offer to go for a ride to scout out a new place to look for warblers.
About ten minutes from the house I turned east onto a gravel road to head to my destination on the south end of Lake Elizabeth. I have this terrible habit of focusing on my destination that I don’t take the time to adequately check out the birds on the way other than while traveling 60 MPH. It’s a good thing, though, that I was traveling slow on the gravel and heading east because the setting sun caught the brilliant yellow belly of a large bird as it lifted off the nearby telephone wire. I instantly knew it was the Western Kingbird! I tried for this bird unsuccessfully a couple different times last year and couldn’t turn one up at Blue Mounds State Park, Felton Prairie, or even Arizona. I had even been making plans to go to Cottonwood this summer to look for it again, and here it was in my own backyard!
I made the ID as I went past it. Looking back I was staring at its sillhouette in the setting sun. I also had a truck come behind me and scare it up. Thankfully it landed back on the wire. I wasn’t taking any chances on scaring it without seeing it in the good light and getting a recognizable photo, so I continued east and drove around the square mile section so I could pull up on it with good light at my back.
I raced home to get Evan. It was only 7:20, so I still had time to get him, get the bird, and get him back for bed at 8. I whipped into the neighborhood and saw all the neighbors and neighbor kids were outside hanging out enjoying this gorgeous night. When they saw me pull up curb-side and not bother to pull in the driveway, they all knew I had seen something good and was there to pick up Evan. No time for small talk. I told Evan to hop in because I found us the Western Kingbird. In seconds, we tore off going back to the wire.
When we got there, I saw a bird on the wire and was hopeful. Then my hopes sank for Evan when I saw it was a Mourning Dove. But I glassed the wire a little further down and refound the kingbird between the next two poles. Whew. Evan has trouble operating binoculars, so I crept the car right up to this bird giving us some incredible looks.
Even being so close, it was tough to fully see how cool this bird was. I flipped open my LCD display for Evan to get a real good look. His response was, “Cool!” Yes, it was. Sadly this bird finally left us going long out of sight. I was hoping it would stick around for other area birders. After all, Western Kingbirds are quite scarce here. Joel told me he’s only seen them twice in the county before.
The funny thing about this Western Kingbird is that he was sitting on a wire on the west end of this gravel road. On the east end were five Eastern Kingbirds! How appropriate. It reminded me of a blog post by the Two-Fisted Birdwatcher. Strangely, I’ve never spent much time photographing this locally common bird, and they were quite skittish tonight when I tried.
It was a very cool burst of birding on this school night. We did a little wandering on the way home and stopped to look at birds here and there. Evan didn’t let me dawdle too long as he had a date with a root beer float back home. Our wandering back brought us down a gravel road that winds between two lakes – water on the left, water on the right. We’ve traveled it many times. Where the water flows through a culvert under the road there are always American White Pelicans feeding on the fish that move between the lakes. Before we got there Evan said he would bet me $10 that there would be pelicans. I told him there was no way I was taking his bet.
Evan would have to settle for his root-beer float instead. I didn’t care about a root-beer float anymore as I was already content with a great sighting of a life bird that was near the top of the summer wish list. But I still enjoyed that float.