Saturday, May 03, 2008

Derby Day Birding

In Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is second only to Christmas as the holiday people look forward to the most. The schools close on Oaks Day (the day before the Derby when the Kentucky Oaks race is run) and offices close early, since so many employees have taken the afternoon off.

Years ago, in my younger days, I too enjoyed the Derby festivities immensely. We bought new clothes to wear to parties and the Derby Breakfast with my in-laws. You get dressed up and have brunch at the country club with friends and relatives not seen any other time of year. Men wear jackets in pastel yellow, green and pink, pulled out of the closet for this one day, along with a horsey themed tie. Women buy huge hats. They don't have to wear sunglasses because of the shade under the brim. "Celebrities" come to town for the Derby Parade and big parties with other celebrities. I, of course, don't even know who any of them are. It's next to impossible to get a hotel room, unless it was reserved last year at Derby time. We rarely had tickets to the Derby itself, so before taking the sitter home, we would get flowers to plant in the yard that afternoon. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

In my "mature" days, however, I celebrate Derby differently. I remember wearing heels to the track, and standing in long lines for the ladies room. Standing so long, in fact, that the betting window closed before I could place a bet. I remember standing in line to get a bus back to the parking lot for our car, then waiting in traffic to get home. Now I have more sense than to spend a day standing in line just to lose money betting on horses.

The first Saturday in May is the height of the spring bird migration, and I get much more enjoyment going to the Falls to go birding than all those lines at the track. Last year Brainard Palmer-Ball stopped by, but today I just went by myself, and had a wonderful time. I actually "pished" and the birds came to see me!! I counted over 30 species at the Fall today, not including a couple I didn't really get a good look at. More importantly, many of them were the elusive warblers, AND I got photos of some! Hallelujah! This is much better than winning a few bucks at the track!

Every year, the Northern Oriole sits in the branches, taunting me, daring me to find it. Today, he made the mistake of sitting on the topmost branch of a small tree, and I actually took his picture. Later, I started whistling at a bird who whistled back and forth with me for about 15 minutes. Then, he flew in to see who the stranger was in the neighborhood, and I saw the Oriole again. So now we are good buddies.

Birds of prey are among my favorites, and both the Osprey and a Red Winged Hawk came soaring over in the stiff breeze. Vultures circled in kettles as the sun warmed the land after heavy rain overnight. The Ospreys are building a nest in a power tower, and I saw the male hunting fish for his mate. He stopped to take a quick bath in the river, then went back to work. Later, I saw him with a fish in talon, heading down towards the nest.

Today's big find, however, was the Scarlet Tanager that I missed a few weeks ago. Apparently he has decided to hang around, and came when I pished and squeaked. I think I saw the Swainson's Thrush, and know I saw a Yellow Rumped Warbler and lots of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. It's funny to watch one of them come up with a worm in beak, which it proceeds to beat to death on a branch before eating! Tent catepillars are like McDonald's for these small birds. Worms in a bag, yum. I slipped through the mud, and over the dead tree trunks down by the creek. A large bird flew by, and I discovered a Green Heron on a branch, the first I have seen at the falls. Several Indigo Buntings kept me company as I wandered through the woods.

I sent a few pictures to Brainard to ID. I wasn't sure what they are, and always hope it will be something new to add to my Life List. Overall, this was a much more satisfying day than spending the day elbow to elbow with one of the largest crowds in Derby history.

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