Seen yesterday at Chapman's Pond, Gainesville FL:
Black-bellied whistling duck (20)
Blue-winged teal (15)
White ibis (15-20)
Hooded Merganser (14)
Pied-billed grebe (8)
Bonaparte's gull (4)
Snowy egret (1)
Great blue heron (1)
Palm warbler (7)
While scanning the pond environs with the binoculars I heard distant but unmistakable clattering cries of approaching Sandhill cranes. I watched a line of about 40 of these great birds fly straight towards a spiraling column of black vultures high overhead. The cranes spooled into the column below the vultures and in no time had surpassed them in altitude. On cue, the skein of cranes broke into two groups, played out into separate lines like a drill team, reformed into an even chevron, and then continued on its south-by-southeastern tack down the rivers of sky and air.
Were it not for the movements of clouds or the breezes that sweep the land below, I might be lulled into imagining the air as a still and lifeless invisible void. Watching the sandhills brought these questions to mind: To birds' eyes, is the airscape just as varied and topographically detailed as the landscape that my eyes behold and delight in? Do they see charging rivers, lazy streams, still pools, waterfalls, backwaters, ripples, currents, waves, torrents, flumes, seas, estuaries ... of air?
Perhaps my most curious bird observation ever was the sight of a half-dozen black-bellied whistling ducks trying to stand next to one another on an overhead wire. Seeing the ducks' compatriots perched all over in the branches of adjacent trees and atop the power poles was strange enough, but that precarious balancing act was the strangest. The feat occurred 2 seasons ago near a pond at an equine study facility operated by the University of Florida, in SW Gainesville.