I love birds – all kinds. Growing up my only pets were parakeets, and I remember staring at them in their cage and wondering if they were happy in the little home we provided for them. In Florida I learned to birdwatch, even if I never have been more than a novice. Still, I watched birds constantly in Florida, because there was always something interesting nearby. Many times I would find my car drifting off the road as I stared into the sky trying to spot a bald eagle in flight. Last spring, while driving on a bridge that spans the Kansas River in Lawrence I saw a very out of place bald eagle just as it was about to land on a tree branch. I nearly plunged my vehicle into the river as I stared in awe of this powerful raptor.
My favorite bird by far is the owl. Part of that goes back to my 6th grade science class, where we dissected owl pellets. Mostly, I just think they are interesting, beautiful, and fascinating creatures. When we lived in Gainesville I was aware of at least two owls that would hunt around our neighborhood (I could tell because they had different calls). One of them liked to perch just outside my bedroom window and talk in the wee hours of the morning. It always woke me up, because I am a terribly light sleeper. One night, just after dinner, it made a rare appearance in our backyard, with just enough light to see it. We stared at it until it flew away – he was so majestic. When I think of what I miss about Gainesville, owls are one of the first things that come to mind. Another bird I thoroughly enjoyed in Florida was the kingfisher (the belted kingfisher to be exact). These birds conjure up memories of Lisa and I visiting the Everglades. They seemed to be everywhere, but never in one place for too long – they are a hyperactive little bird. They perch on tree branches or poles near bodies of water, because that is where their food supply comes from.
This morning I was totally surprised to spot a kingfisher while driving Lisa to work. It was perched on a pole overlooking a retention pond. I slammed on the brakes to watch it (fortunately nobody was behind me), and soon enough it was flying laps around the pond before moving on to something that had a better chance of feeding it. I was in shock. I honestly had no clue kingfishers would travel this far north, and this far away from a major body of water. I hoped he wasn’t lost.
When I got home I decided to look up habitats for kingfishers, because I was worried. I noticed right away that they can be found as far north as Canada and Alaska. The little critter was flying south for the winter, because this has been a very cold fall, and it was time for him to warm up. I can imagine he reversed the route Lewis & Clark took, following the Missouri River down from North Dakota, and making a little stop in Overland Park, ensuring our community lived up to its name. Then I had to wonder if he would end up in the Florida Everglades. I wonder if he returned their every year around this time, just like the “snowbirds” we see driving to St. Petersburg and St. Augustine each year. Then my memories floated back to those places in Florida where I did see all of the wild, amazing birds who filled the sky with their flight and their calls. Who would have thought seeing a little bird perched on a post, looking for his breakfast in a retention pond could have such an affect on me?