I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
August 16, 2018
It wasn’t the best start to our birdwatching venture, and I was tempted to call the whole thing off… After all, identifying birds has never been a real strength of mine. This is a little disappointing to me, because I’ve always thought there was something strangely appealing about people who geek out over birds. I’m charmed by their fancy zoom lenses, their natty safari outfits, and their well-thumbed Audubon guidebooks, and I’ve noticed the most passionate among them often look and act a little like birds themselves — compact and agile, with sharp features and darting eyes.
Coming across some of these diehard birders on walks, I’ve vicariously shared their excitement in seeing a feather-tufted fifflefeiffer on the nest, or hearing the mating call of a rare double-crested conundrum — at least, that’s what I think they were called. To my eye, most all creatures with feathers are… birds. Just. Birds. I mean, I can tell the difference between some of them, but all of them sound basically the same. Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet. That’s what I hear. If there’s a Basic Bitch of Birding, it’s probably me.
And that might be exactly why my husband signed us both up for the guided hike — This is a man, after all, whose favorite quote is ‘Never, never, never give up.’* And so despite my misgivings, just before sunset one evening last week, we made the 30-minute drive from our Gulf Shores condo to the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge.
I was relieved when we arrived to discover that the trail we’d be taking on this particular walk led into a shady grove of live oaks and sand pines — On more than a few beach vacations, I’ve found myself stumbling after my husband on sandy, shadeless trails, using one hand to shield myself from the sun and desperately calling out for ‘Agua!’ the way Luis on Sesame Street taught me when I was a kid.
Oh, the memories.
We parked and made our way over to a small group of birdwatchers who stood in an awkward semi-circle, fumbling with their binoculars and their bug spray. Before them stood a bespectacled, bebaseball-capped young man holding an expensive-looking spotting scope on a tripod. He introduced himself as our guide and told us he was a grad student from Missouri interning at the refuge for the summer. I immediately accepted his offer of a loaner pair of binoculars since they seemed much nicer than the ones we’d brought. Taking them, I darted a furtive glance at my husband, who held our old scratched pair and looked slightly offended.
Our guide asked us to introduce ourselves and tell the group where we were from. Most everyone was local except for us. “We’re from Nashville,” my husband said when it was our turn, smiling to show we meant no harm. The locals signaled their acceptance of us in the traditional Southern way by immediately sharing any ties they had our city no matter how tenuous.
“I drove through Nashville a while back,” one man blurted out. “I-24. The traffic was horrible.” We murmured our agreement.
“We love Nashville,” another woman said, smiling warmly. “We just love visiting your city.”
“Thank you,” we replied modestly.
“I used to live in Hendersonville,” the man next to her offered. “It’s right outside Nashville,” he quickly informed the rest of the group.
The middle-aged husband and wife standing beside him said nothing. I guessed they’d heard a thing or two about our sinful honky tonks and were keeping any Nashville connections they had to themselves. I tried to think of what a birder might do in this situation and clucked sympathetically while making eye contact, but it didn’t seem to have an impact. Oh, well. Clearly, they would be tough eggs to crack.
The only person left to introduce himself was a big guy who wore an easy grin on his face. “I’m hard a hearin’, so I’m gonna need ever body to repeat themselves,” he boomed, looking pleased with his joke. We all laughed politely.
“Well, let’s get started,” our guide said after a pause. “If anyone sees anything while we’re walking, let me know and I’ll try to find it in the spotting scope.”
He set off down the trail and we followed like a gaggle of geese behind him, each of us peering hopefully into the tree canopy. Shuffling along, I scoured bushes, branches, brambles. All were empty. Minutes passed, sweat rolled down my face, and I began to despair.
“Where are the birds?” I whispered to my husband. “Where are they?” I don’t ordinarily notice birds at all, but only because they’re always around. Whether flying overhead, hopping across my front yard, or shitting on my car, I take their constant presence for granted. In the eerie stillness of this forest, though, their absence was louder than the sound of a hundred hedgie-chested warblers. Was there such thing as a bird drought? Ahead of us, Big Guy expressed his own misgivings.
“I could be on my boat right now,” he boomed sorrowfully to his wife. “Right this minute. Gettin’ it all ready fer tomorrah.”
“What a turkey,” I whispered to my husband.
I gave up on looking for birds and decided to focus instead on what I could see — Sunset was approaching and the landscape had taken on a warm, golden glow.
My husband and I marveled over these berries — at least until Big Guy discovered them. “There’s a mess a grapes over here and Ah’m hungry,” he brayed.
No one responded.
Finally, the forest gave way to marsh. Beyond the rippling grass, the McMansion-bordered Little Lagoon sparkled brightly. Our guide stopped suddenly and set his tripod on the ground.
“I see an osprey,” he announced quietly, turning the scope up to a stand of tall pines in the distance. I looked in the direction he’d pointed, and there it was.
Although I know very little about birds in general, ospreys are the exception. On another beach a year ago, my son and I watched as one dropped into the ocean right in front of us and rose back into the air clutching a large, wriggling fish in its talons. After that, we watched countless videos about ospreys on YouTube. Okay, the truth is, I watched the videos. I became a little obsessed with these predatory birds that can thrive in all kinds of environments, so I’m pretty sure this particular osprey was a messenger sent directly from God to reassure me that there was in fact no BIRD DROUGHT at the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge.
Thank you, Heavenly Father.
My binoculars gave me a pretty good look at the bird, but when I squinted at it through the scope, the view was incredible. It seemed as if the osprey was right in front of me, staring at me with piercing yellow eyes as if to say, ‘Don’t f*!k with me or I will disembowel you with my talons!’ I shuddered and backed away from the scope. Already, I had gotten my money’s worth on this bird walk. I mean, I didn’t actually pay any money for it, but… You know what I mean.
We walked a little further and our guide stopped again, training his scope this time on a great blue heron.
Our final stop was at a secluded marsh pond, where we encountered a creature commonly referred to as ‘a duck’ in the middle of the water.
“It’s a black bellied whistling-duck,” our guide clarified, “and if you look through the scope, you can see babies swimming at its feet. I counted six.”
Looking through my binoculars, I spotted the duck’s mate in the grass beside the pond. “Great spot,” our guide said when I pointed it out. I looked around smugly to see if anyone else had heard him. Clearly, my duck-spotting abilities were superior and deserved some sort of applause or sounds of general admiration. Unfortunately, the group was too busy cooing over the duck babies to notice. “Lemmings,” I muttered darkly.
The sun was sinking beneath the horizon as we headed back toward the parking lot. The walk had taken about an hour — a perfect amount of time for a Basic Birder like me.
“Mama, you gonna invite ever body over to our house tomorrow morning now to have a look at your bird feeder?” Big Guy boomed as we came to the end of the trail. His wife just sighed, clearly regretting the day she saw the ad for this bird walk posted in The Mullet Wrapper.
We thanked our guide, said goodbye to everyone, and headed out to the parking lot. Just as we were getting into our car, the female half of the couple who’d remained quiet during introductions caught up with us.
“My son works at the Hyundai dealership in Nashville!” she blurted out. “His name is James! He’s the manager! So, if you ever need help at the Hyundai dealership, just ask for James!”
It was official. We’d been accepted into the flock.
“This hike was a very good idea,” I told my husband as he pulled out of our parking spot. He smiled at me as we pulled onto the main road and headed for home.
*That’s straight from the mouth of Winston Churchill.