Monthly Archives: June 2013

Are You a Bieber Belieber?

“Have you seen her today?” asked a birder friend of mine breathlessly, panting because he had trotted all the way down the Loop Trail to Southwest Pond.

“No,” I answered regretfully, “but I heard her!” My friend’s eyes got gratifyingly big, so I offered details. “She was calling to her kids. I could tell she was just a few feet away, but she didn’t come out.”

“Yesterday,” bragged my friend, “I saw her out on the path, and she had TWO babies with her. They were walking along right here in the water.”

“Well, I heard she had four babies altogether,” I responded, “and a friend of mine got pictures!”


We both sighed ecstatically. Hollywood has its fan clubs—Justin Bieber has whole claques of them—and we have ours. Perhaps our biggest fan club is the one that idolizes Virginia Rails. We haven’t given ourselves a catchy name yet like Justin’s followers. Rail Trailers? Ranters for Rails? But we are every bit as gaga over our celebs as any fan could be.

Virginia Rails are prehistoric-looking birds of the marshes, with short tails and long, curved bills. They look like footballs on stilts, but they have the ability to change their shape, flattening themselves into pancakes as they pass through the cattails. For the most part, Virginia Rails are shy and retiring. They don’t mind calling loudly when people pass by, but they dislike being looked at. I guess they are conflicted celebrities, like Greta Garbo, who sought fame as a movie star but vanted to be left alone. So it’s always a great day when a Virginia Rail decides to give us a glimpse. The rail family on Southwest Pond has been particularly visible lately, giving us fans thrill after thrill. We’re thinking about starting a Starline bus tour any day now.VARailChick

Is He or Isn’t He?


A debate is raging in the birding community about whether Cedar Waxwings have a secret identity. The debate was sparked by the observation that Cedar Waxwings might not have any feathers at all but, rather, are encased in a super suit.

“Just look at them,” said one birder. “They are completely smooth all over, like they’re wearing Lycra. But Cedar Waxwings have been around long before Lycra was invented. The only possible explanation of their sleekness has to be that they’re wearing super suits. And,” he added, “everybody knows the only characters who wear super suits are superheroes.”

“That explains so much,” said another birder, nodding thoughtfully. “One time, I was looking at a Cedar Waxwing, and I turned away for half a second. When I looked again, the Cedar Waxwing was gone! In its place was a House Finch!!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said a third birder, scornfully. “Why would a Cedar Waxwing’s secret identity be another bird? I was on a master birder field trip recently, and someone in the group spotted a Cedar Waxwing foraging near a blackberry bush. But when everyone turned to look, all we saw was our leader, Dennis Paulson! And, he was eating a berry!!!”

When contacted about this startling assertion, mild-mannered ornithologist Paulson would say only, “I am not a Cedar Waxwing in disguise.”

“Of course he’s not a Cedar Waxwing,” said a fellow scientist, who refused to be named. “If Dennis were to assume a secret identity at all—and I’m not saying he has—he would be a Swallow-tailed Kite.”

When confronted by a horde of reporters outside her home, Paulson’s wife Netta Smith refused to answer any questions at all. Before hustling into her car, though, she put her finger to the side of her nose and tapped it significantly. And so the debate rages on. The public is asked to report any future sightings of Cedar Waxwings—or Dennis—in telephone booths.