Personal Story

Thrilled and Transported

Submitted by Talkin’ Birds Ambassador Peggy Page

I've been a serious (that is, “addicted!”") birder for almost 40 years, but the birds never stop surprising and delighting me. In 2017, I spent three months traveling around the US trying to fill in some of the gaps in my North American list, which is pretty respectable but was missing some birds I really wanted to see. One was the Northern Pygmy Owl. I had lived in the Bay Area for several years in the 90's and frequently prowled the Sunol Regional Wilderness park where this sneaky little guy allegedly breeds, but never was able to see - or even hear - one. It was at the top of my “Fill in the Gaps” wish list, but I had little hope. After all, it was (along with its sneaky little buddy, the Northern Saw Whet) a nemesis bird. 

In June, 2017 I returned to Sunol Wilderness with no thought at all of seeing the Pygmy Owl. In fact, I was looking for Yellow-billed Magpies to pad my year list. As I walked along the hot and sunny main road, I heard a hissing sound from a live oak tree right over my shoulder. Deciding it was only a bushtit, I almost didn't turn around. But some wonderful hunch convinced me to do just that - and there, only feet away, was an adult Northern Pygmy Owl feeding two almost-fledged, fluffy, and adorable youngsters. The hiss I had heard was one of the kids insisting on his share of the mouse the adult was shredding. i watched for ten minutes, frozen in the best kind of shock and awe. 

Who needs a camera? That magical encounter is seared into my memory! The wonderful thing about birds? They never run out of ways to thrill and transport us!

A Mystery Swarm Draws Dozens of Birds

A personal story from Jesse Barraza, a Talkin' Birds Ambassador from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

A couple of weeks ago during dinner, our 3-year-old daughter suddenly told us to look out the window at many birds flying in the backyard. We are used to seeing a lot of birds because we have two bird feeders—one filled with nyjer and the other with safflower. But this time it wasn’t our usual guests coming in for a snack. We glanced outside, then went out of the house, to witness at least 50 birds swooping back and forth in the backyard. Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows were having a feast—and a couple of Chimney Swifts had tagged along, too.

Small insects were hatching from the lawn. We could see the swarm coming out of the ground and into the air. We saw a dragonfly feasting on them ow to the ground, and I hope it didn’t end up part of the feast itself.

I have no idea what type of insect was swarming. They seemed smaller than a house fly, but we couldn’t make them out and we did not want to disturb the birds by going closer. Do any of you know what these insects might be?

The feast lasted for a good 20 or 30 minutes. It seemed that the swallows knew exactly where to be at the right time. We are looking forward to this experience again, should this be an annual spectacle.

 

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The Gift: A Personal Story

By Joy Klumpp, Certified Texas Master Naturalist

September 4th is the anniversary of my mom’s death. It is not the anniversary per se that is difficult for me to deal with; it’s every single day of the year that I feel her absence. So while the date is a milestone, it is just another day that I live my life without my mom. Every day feels much smaller because my mother is no longer in my life.  

While my mom was sick, she recommended a book to me: “Wesley the Owl” by Stacie O'Brien. I devoured it. It pulled at my heart strings and the very core of who I have always felt I am, or perhaps always desired to be. I feel awe when I read stories that are beyond comprehension—when humans and animals sync in such a way that I am left wondering how anyone could question the existence of God. I'm amazed at how a lucky few can unite with the spirits of animals and have a connection beyond anything humankind can understand.

This book sparked my passion for owls. I started learning what I could about the elusive birds. I listened to their calls for hours, learning how to distinguish the different species within the Texas area. I focused on the Barred Owl. It has an amazing call. I don’t know why I am so fascinated by this particular owl, because so many others are equally amazing, but there is just something in the way the Barred Owl communicates that stirs something inside me.

I had only seen one owl in the wild in my life: a Western Screech-Owl which just happened to be hanging out in my backyard one day. I’ve heard screech-owls and the Great Horned Owl, but I don’t get Barred Owls in my area of Houston. My encounters with owls for the most part have been auditory.

I felt pretty disappointed that I had yet to see a Great Horned Owl or Barred Owl. I feel silly for admitting this, but I remember praying that I would get to see one. It wasn’t one of those prayers I was thoroughly invested in. It was just a little conversation between me and God where I just expressed my desire to get to see one sometime.  It seems so silly and trivial, but maybe it was because I knew my mom’s anniversary was approaching and I thought that perhaps seeing one would reunite me with my mom in some small way since, she was instrumental in fueling the fire in me for owls.

I planned a kayaking trip with a friend for September 4th, 2016 because I didn’t want to sit around the house. We had been kayaking only for a few hours when it began to rain. It was a serene, calming rain, and it occurred for what seemed like only a few moments.  Then, as the rain began to dissipate, I heard it. It felt like I had tuned in to the middle of a conversation. I heard the final sentence draw to a close and caught the Barred Owl's last remark. And that is when I set eyes on the most beautiful bird ever. It perched there, its eyes locked on to me, motionless. I almost cried.

I realize some people will read this and say, “This woman is off her rocker!” But sometimes we are given experiences in life when we most need them. And I was given a gift.

Joy Klump (Barred Owl).jpg