Outdoors

Birding can provide quite a theatrical show

The Nature Call: 'Superheroes' are around us every day

A yellow-throated warbler gathers nesting material at Coralville Lake dam in 2018. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)
A yellow-throated warbler gathers nesting material at Coralville Lake dam in 2018. (Brandon Caswell/correspondent)

Superheroes are all the rage.

I did see the 2002 “Spiderman” in the theater while on a date with my now wife. I found her more interesting than any Avenger, still do.

I get the allure of strange creatures, extraordinary powers and fabulous costumes.

Which is why I recommend birding.

“Birds as superheroes?” you asked with derision.

Yes, I have no doubt.

I made an attempt to fool a turkey the last week of the season, it was a glorious afternoon. Yet my pursuit of game was interrupted by a superb display of migratory songbirds; my scattergun for a telephoto lens.

The first character to catch my eye was a Common Yellowthroat. There’s nothing common about this bird. His black face mask is topped with a white stripe, his throat and breast bright yellow. He could be a version of a flamboyant Lone Ranger who can fly.

The next actors of the drama were sparrows I just couldn’t quite ID. My eight power binoculars gave me all the details I should have needed. But these birds, whether field or fox sparrows, shimmered with what seemed like a dusty gold aura.

Was it pollen, special plumage or the theatrical lighting of the sun’s angle that bedeviled certainty? I’m satisfied with the mystery, it makes for a more intrequing sequel performance.

Eventually I got set. My decoy turkey bobbed and turned in the breeze. I was sitting at the base of a large silver maple. Stock-still should have been my mantra, yet here I was, craning my neck and gawking through my binos.

The most fidgety counterfeit bush ever.

The show I was getting from the Connecticut warbler was a first for me. It was way better than I could have expected from Tom turkey — I’ve seen his act before. I’ve eaten “tag soup” before and I will again.

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These small birds, fractions of an ounce, are participants in the epic drama of spring migration. It’s a challenge of will against weather and predators. Spring migration plays out complicated love stories: lust, competition, love triangles and deceit. Fully described it may not be suitable to all audiences.

These songbirds are dinosaurs, shrunk down in size and energized by warm blood. Their glories might be inversely proportional to their dimensions.

Migration finds so many species packed together as they course the old routes, a gathering of avian superheroes. Their “End Game” is the breeding territory and reproduction. Their individual fortunes are secondary to the business of securing a future for others. The dramatic finale always hints to a future story.

Quitting time arrived. Three deer feeding nearby wheezed with displeasure as I stood. I ruined their dining spot for the evening. The decoy rode in my pack for the walk out, the only turkey I saw.

But I didn’t mind. I just had several hours in a front-row seat to a blockbuster for the ages.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

l John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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