|9.2015 Blood moon eclipse|
It was October 30th, Devil’s Night, and something magical was buzzing in the air.
Maybe it was the candy and chocolate meant for trick-or-treaters but sampled first by adults; or the way pumpkins had transformed into lanterns that smiled and screamed from porches and windows. Maybe it was the breath of autumn filling the air with the sweet musty scent of wet leaves and cinnamon; or the freedom to dress like a mummy or a cat or a puzzle piece. Whatever the cause, there was a mischievous, childlike spirit emanating from every shadowy corner. These shadows held secrets too, and unexpected things.
Some of these came in the form of ghosts, spiders, and children jumping into view with a loud, “BOO!”Some showed up as birds.
|10.30.15 Varied Thrush|
The Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) is a black and orange robin relative hailing from the damp woods and ravines of the west coast. From Alaska to southern California it creeps through the forests’ carpet, calling out with a ghostly whistle (some say UFO-like).
It seemed that on this day the winds were in my favor, bringing to the park this west coast wanderer. Birders texted and called each other with the news, gathering one by one to the scene. My arrival was a hurried affair. Still (under)dressed in work clothes, I ran through the parking lot at Lake St. Clair Metropark in hopes I wasn’t too late.
Quickly my worries were dissolved as I heard Scott say, “Andrea, Varied Thrush in the scope!” On my tip toes I peered into a beautiful circular world of magnified bird. I could see its black bib and bright orange breast whose feathers kind of reminded me of bubble wrap. Amazingly, this Varied Thrush, entirely festive dressed in orange and black, was not the only faraway traveler in sight.
Out on the water there was spinning top, its white and grey colors becoming a blur that matched the cloudy sky. As it slowed, it revealed itself as a bird even more out of range than the first. It was a Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) and was uncharacteristically inland. It had likely travelled from the high arctic, from which it would typically follow the Atlantic or Pacific southward to spend the winter at sea.
|10.30.15 Red Phalarope|
In the presence of more experienced birders, these two birds provided a rare scenario where I was not the only one seeing a bird for the first time. At least one of these birds was a lifer for many of us (a lifer is a life bird, or bird one sees for the first time).
Ever hungry for a closer look, we decided the Varied Thrush would be easier to approach than the Red Phalarope swirling around in the waves. A few of us drove to the other side of the bay, crossing backyards (with permission) to wait for our Halloween bird. It soon obliged and gave us a few glorious moments empty of breathing yet full of camera clicks. When the thrush scurried out of sight, we collectively exhaled, smiled, and pumped fists.
Just as Halloween shrieks with simultaneous delight and horror, so too did events unfold.
|10.30.15 Varied Thrush|
There was one more bird silently waiting in the wings- a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) who was hungry for something unusual. The Varied Thrush was a bright orange target for this bird of prey. After it descended upon the thrush, it began to pluck the feathers which scattered across the muddy beach like the spines of fallen leaves.
Just then, a friendly young couple walked up to our birding group and asked what we were doing. We all sort of scrambled for words and explained that we just saw a rare and beautiful bird which then got eaten. Even as non-birders, they seemed to understand the emotion of the situation; we all did as we dared to think about life and death.
I was reminded of Halloween’s roots in the Celtic tradition of Samhain. According to Spring Wolf,
“During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, and danced around the bonfire. Many of these dances told stories or played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the cycle of Wheel of Life.” Perhaps a dramatic comparison, the day's events still seemed a fitting and timely metaphor.
Now, Halloween is here to welcome the darkness and savor the light. Tonight, when the sky is black and the moon is wide awake, perhaps we’ll hear a faint, otherworldly call, the whistle of a black and orange ghost.
|10.30.15 A very Halloween scene|
Hold the dark holiday in your palms. Bite it, swallow it and survive, Come out the far black tunnel of el Dia de Muerte And be glad, ah so glad you are... alive! -Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree