February 17, 2014 10:03:14 AM
Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]
Dressed in all our outdoor gear, we watched a bird soar over the sage field and lake.
"It's a small hawk or maybe an owl. The head looks like an owl," Sam said.
He aimed his camera and snapped a photo of the bird. This is our new method of bird identification since we are terrible at it. Before photographs we'd look at the bird book; we'd wonder was the beak black, white or yellow? What color were its feet? How long was the tail? We couldn't remember.
Sam and I were sitting in the girls' 20-year-old wooden fort. It's about 5 feet off the ground, the wood is now weathered. By securing the 2x4s with additional nails, enlarging the opening for big people, adding two rusted folding chairs and draping camouflage netting over the top we converted the dilapidated fixture into our "skybox." A later addition was a Styrofoam piece cut from a swimming noodle attached to the overhead beam preventing Sam from repeatedly hitting his head.
On days when weather and time permit we pack up our gear, coffee thermos, favorite mugs, binoculars, and Sam's new camera and head out. Viewing from the stand is like sitting in an open air skybox at a sporting event.
We wait for deer to come out of the woods and edge into the sage field. Most often we see 20 or so. They come in the same pairs or groups so that we begin to know them. On one such occasion a young deer came early to feed under the feeder, eating up all the corn. A half hour later the regular group showed up. We watched an older doe nose the gluttonous younger deer over to the side of the woods. The younger deer kept his head down and stayed away as if it had been chastened.
I described that event to my friend, Mavis. "Horses will do that, "she said. "They discipline bad behavior by separating the offender from the group."
"Like time out?" I asked.
"Yes, just like that."
On that day it looked like no deer would show up. We wondered if perhaps the feeder's battery was dead. From the stand I observed my three domestic ducks, a flock of six wild ducks and an occasional unidentifiable critter on the lake, perhaps beaver. Earlier that same day we had broken away part of the dam the beaver had constructed over the spillway. We used to destroy the whole thing until we realized this could be advantageous for retaining water through the summer drought. But right now the water was inching precariously close to the underside of the cabin.
The evening's event concluded back at the house with an examination of the bird book. Our consensus was that the bird was a Northern Harrier. The bird's face is "owl-like" and usually courses low over fields and marshes. Here in our Prairie, a Northern Harrier winters.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.