Rapid Bird Movement

It was sometime in the mid-80s, probably a couple of months after John Plymale and I had played together in Great Wall of Doo Doo, "The World's Only Wall of Voodoo Tribute Band."  We thoroughly enjoyed playing together, particularly since it gave us the chance to play many of our favorite WoV tunes, and to warp other songs into the WoV signature style, but somehow it wasn't enough.  We came up with another idea:  another tribute band, but this time a tribute to a band with a somewhat more mainstream appeal:  R.E.M.  Naturally, given our previous project (and our generally juvenile sense of humor), we seized on the name R.B.M.--Rapid Bowel Movement.

Sadly, R.B.M. never got beyond the theoretical stage (though if Plymale calls me up, I'm ready to jangle away on most any Peter Buck lick, as long as someone lends me a Rickenbacker), but I've managed to find a use for the abbreviation: it neatly describes the sudden incursion I made into foreign birding territory over the weekend.  I got in, I got out, I saw some birds I hadn't seen in a while.

Our trip to southeastern North Carolina took us into the winter range of several birds I expected to see, such as the Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is downright common in the pine woods of Cumberland County, but doesn't come up into my central Virginia home territory.  Sure enough, there in the front yard of my mother-in-law's house, I could hear the distinctive nasal cries of the Brown-head, as well as the trilling of a number of Chipping Sparrows, which for the most part retire gracefully from these parts when the weather turns cold.  No surprises there, though it was pleasant to log the nuthatch, which I hadn't seen since I was in the Okefenokee nearly three years ago.

The surprises?  One was perched in the same tree where I was observing the nuthatches, along with several titmice and a chickadee or three.  At first I assumed it was a chunky Pine Warbler, but when it spun around to face me, I got a look at its greyish head and clean white spectacle.  It was a Blue-headed Vireo, a bird I had last seen in West Virginia back in April of 2007.  Most vireos leave the country entirely when it gets cold, so I wasn't expecting to see this one, but a quick check of its range map (thank you, Cornell University, for setting out this and scads of other info on the web at All About Birds--bookmark the site now if you haven't already, people) revealed that the Blue-head winters in the southeast.

But the biggest surprise was sitting alertly in a bare tree beside a gas station along I-95 south--at exit 95, to be specific.  I heard it mewling as I returned to the car from my visit to the loo, and when I first caught a look at it, I assumed it was a Mockingbird.  It had the same pearly gray coloration, the same whitish patches, the same... wait a minute.  In profile, that bill looked way too heavy... hooked, even... and the head was large... and though the light was a bit behind it...

Luckily, I've found a great place to keep the lightweight 8 X 21 Bushnell binoculars I picked up for my Outward Bound course a few years back:  in my glove compartment.  With a quick grab, I was able to determine that this was in fact what I suspected it to be: a Loggerhead Shrike.  This is not a bird I see often.  There were a few who lived in Hope Mills at the town park where Kelly and I took the kids for walks when they were infants, and their distinctive fluttery wing motions were impressed into my memory for good, but they're increasingly uncommon birds.  I've never seen one in Virginia, though reports of them pop up from time to time.  In fact, the only place I see them is in eastern North Carolina... in December... in even-numbered years.  The last time one appeared on my year list?  December 16, 2006, when Mary Stevens and I spotted one at the Horny Pony Farm (Not Its Real Name) outside Lillington.  Before that?  December 18, 2004, again with Mary.  Naturally, given the Loggerhead's appearance, I halfway expected Mary to walk out of the ladies' room.

Due to weather, work schedules, and a college visit that Ian had arranged for 11:00 a.m. today, our time at my mother-in-law's place was exceedingly brief.  I got to see most of my brothers-in-law, their spouses, and their kids (and three of the grandkids), but it was a lightning-swift trip, and I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with any of the people.  On the plus side, my MIL served us her special oyster soup, and we got in a visit to Bojangles as well, so it wasn't a complete loss.  Throw in three good birds, and the trip would be well worth it even if Kel hadn't given me a gift that shows she not only loves me, but she knows me all too well:  the new riff-treated version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians from Cinematic Titanic.

Now THAT is what Christmas is all about.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 22, 2008 4:55 PM.

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