Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Which A New Camera Helps Record The Screaming Bird

Help me out, blog readers. Is this a kestrel atop Warde Hall? Anyway, it's the bird that was yelling at me.

It was warm this evening. This afternoon, I had met some of first-year students in my portal class, been out to eat with my wife and was back at campus getting ready to bike home.

It was around 6:30, the late August light was just starting to fade, but I was thinking it might be time for a bit more of a ride than my regular commute. I was just in the mood, plus I wanted to try out the new GE X500 camera that my wife got me for my upcoming 55th birthday.

And, as I decided to take the longer trial ride home, it was then that I heard it.

Professor Joy Ochs has often described to me the screeching cry that this bird makes, and I’m sure it has sounded often when I've been near and I’ve not noticed it before. Maybe it was the still of a late Saturday afternoon at a campus that, even with the arrival of first-year students, remains a bit somnolent from summer, which made me tune in this time.

My head jerked northwest in the direction of the noise. At the base of the MMU hill, on the crown of a half dead maple, perched a very large bird. I wanted to try out my new camera, so I unlimbered it from my bike basket, leaned against a handy ash tree, turned it on and zoomed. The bird screeched once more, but stayed up in the tree just until I pressed my finger to focus the camera. That’s when it jumped into the air and instantly flapped out of my frame.

Well. Darn. So I hopped on Francis and headed down the drive by Warde Hall. But then there was another screech. I glanced up at the copula of Warde Hall and nearly drove off the drive.

When it shot out of the tree, the bird apparently was heading to its perch atop Warde Hall. Both Dr. Ochs and Dr. Neil Bernstein, who chairs our science and math department, have told me for years that there is a kestrel that rests often atop Warde Hall. I don’t know for sure that this bird I saw and photogrpahed is the Warde Hall bird, but then again, what else makes so much noise and likes this particular perch? I’m thinking it’s the MMU bird, and I was able to stop in the street and shoot up and capture its image, maybe because it had its back to me and didn’t care about me anymore.

Anyway, within the first 20 yards, it was already a nice ride. It was still warm—we’re in for some scorching weather, now that school is getting underway, and this evening felt like the start of our delayed summer heat—but pleasant. I headed over to the Cedar River Trail and rode north.

Sun is heading down as I head north. View just outside of Hiawatha along Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
I reached the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Hiawatha, despite having to thread through a construction zone, but only went north three miles before I decided the setting sun meant time to go home. So I switched on my lights and headed back south.

It was a ride that felt like mid-summer but that looked like early fall. Sumac is turning scarlet and berries look heavy and ripening on many bushes. Flowers are in bloom, but the coneflowers are starting to fade and turn to seed. Everything is drying up, although I bet that after a hot week they’ll look much dryer.

Flowers (and a cow) at my turnaround point three miles north of Hiawatha.
Birds and insects were out in full chorus. There was a smoky scent in the air which brought to mind bonfires and barbecues.

Despite the fading light, there were a fair number of bikers on the trail, enjoying this fine summer night.

I enjoyed this small sojourn at the end of summer. I am not totally comfortable, yet, with the new camera—I have to learn how to focus and hold it steady at the edge of its telephoto range—but I liked some of the photos I captured on this bike ride. I hope you do, too.
Francis ready to head home at the parking lot where I turned around. Note lights on.

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