All who wander are not lost - JRR Tolkein travel blog


Bird watching, or 'birding,' as the hobby is known to those of us who call ourselves 'birders' can be pursued or enjoyed, perhaps both at the same time. Birders who pursue the sport, race around the country and even across the world, sparing no expense, to score as many species sightings as possible in a given time period. In a 24 hour period the pursuit is known as a 'Big Day.' And not surprisingly, a year's chase is a 'Big Year.'

Jane and I do keep a 'life list' of species we've observed, along with the location of the first sighting of each kind of bird. But ours is more for enjoyment than pursuit. We do expect to add not-before-seen-species to our list, but we're not fanatical about it. Like our life generally, there is little urgency to our birding. We're more inclined to quest patiently after a 'Big Life' than either a 'Big Year' or even a 'Big Day.'

Yesterday's hour and a half stroll along the paved road of Sandy Creek Corps of Engineers Park here just south-west of Jasper, TX, was interesting, not because we got to add a 'lifer' (first time identified), but because we got a glimpse of a couple of usual suspects in unusual proximity. Our daily journal for yesterday included twenty-four species, many of which we'd see around home, including Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Jay and American Crow. To be expected here but not at home regularly were Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a pair of Bald Eagles.

The surprise came in encountering two species one would not expect to see on the same bird walk. As is usual, Jane was first to see the birds. She has me along because I'm usually a bit quicker at identifying them, once she points them out. The tiny brown bird, looking like the bark of the oak around the limbs of which it was spiraling, with its long bill and long tail pressed close to the branch, I knew immediately to be a Brown Creeper. These diminutive hard-wood forest dwellers typically can be observed flying to the base of a tree, then circling its trunk, spiraling upward in search of insects in bark cracks and crevices, then gliding to the base of a near-by tree to resume the hunt. The Brown Creeper's ascent is a distinguishing field sign in case one cannot see whether the bird is a Nuthatch, most of which descend on their insect foray.

Within a few hundred yards, Jane called my attention to four small doves feeding together on the ground in a grassy area beneath an open cluster of very tall pines. Smaller than the Mourning Doves in our backyards in Ohio, the size, long tail and scalloped coloration of back feathers, well suited to camoflage them against the pine cones and pine needles, convinced me that they were Inca Doves. A quick look at the birding field guides that we carry confirmed my guess.

We have seen both the Inca Dove and the Brown Creeper before, the Creeper in its more-native Appalachian hard-woods and the Dove beneath the mesquite and chaparal of its more-likely southern plains/desert environs. To see them both almost in the same binocular field of view is unusual.

It is this diversity that makes this part of Texas known as the Big Thicket so interesting. Actually, the adjective indicating exaggerated size could be understood as a bit of the usual Texas 'everything is bigger in the Lone Star State' attitude. What was once truly BIG, some three and a half million acres of pine and hard-wood tangle, is now reduced to a national preserve of 86,000 acres stretched along a riparian corridor of the Neches River, bulging outside the narrow corridor a couple of times with large stands of thicket.

The biological diversity that exists among 85 tree species, 60 different shrubs, almost 1000 flowering plants including cacti, along with 26 kinds of ferns, 20 orchids and 5 kinds of insect-eating plants, is truely remarkable. The area has been called the 'biological crossroad of North America.' This diversity is the result of the Ice Age glaciers that pushed species south then retreated leaving conditions varied enough to support an ecological crowd of newcomers 10,000 years ago.

It was below freezing the first night we camped here. Yesterday the temperature reached the mid 70s. An older local man said to me that he didn't know what global warming was bringing next. I don't know either but my hope is that our current climate crisis, like the Ice Age, will push not just nature into unusually cooperative communities, but will also force cultures and nations to realize that geopolitical sovereignty and planetary survival cannot co-exist.

I have no idea just when the first Brown Creeper looked down from his focused feeding to realize that those Inca Doves were not interlopers in 'my territory' but were neighbors in 'our woods,' but I am certain that it did happen and I know where it happened. It occured just West of Nod, where from a distance the Doves and the Creeper could see a beam flashing sword-like as though to prevent the re-entry of prideful domination.

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