You know how they say that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame? Somehow I thought mine was when I won the 5th grade spelling bee, but apparently I was mistaken. My 15 minutes of fame involves a bird and a dead animal carcass.
Now, for those of you who know me understand that I get a little nerdy when it comes to certain things, like getting OCD on how many countries and continents I’m able to visit in one lifetime; that I have to eat my Cheerios dry, out of the box, and stacked in a row no higher than five when I crunch into them; and that I think it’s cool to know the correct name of a bird I happen to see or hear in the woods.
Yesterday, Nerdy Habit #3 paid off, in a big way.
I was visiting my parents’ house, as is my wintertime Sunday tradition, anticipating that I’d work a puzzle with Mumma after going for a walk on their property’s Secret Trail (which really isn’t a secret to the three of us and anyone who looks down to see not only our tracks, but the blaze orange tape tied to certain trees to keep you from getting lost).
I was feeling ambitious and thought I’d take another loop back through the trail again, but this time I explored around the pond, and yes, I trekked past a snow-covered deer carcass that Dad had thrown out on the back property to attract predators. We are a family who hunts. What more can I say?
Anyway, it’s pretty common to see an assortment of ravens and bald eagles along with the occasional coyote in this vicinity, so I didn’t really think twice when I saw what I thought was a juvenile bald eagle circling above me, near the carcass. I remember two things: first, I shouted up at the bird, “I’m not dead yet, you little hater!” And second, that this was the weirdest-looking juvie eagle I’d ever seen, because the tips of his wings underneath were white.
About an hour later, a neighbor friend was visiting with Mumma and me while we were working our puzzle, and he commented that there was an eagle out at the deer carcass. Because I only have 6,386 pictures of bald eagles currently, I thought it would be fun to get a few dozen more.
Except, wait. Since when does a bald eagle have black on the top of its head, and a beak that is orange at the base and light gray at the tip? I got some blurry pics and a video before he took off, chased away by a raven.
Since I must get some of my OCD-ed-ness from my mother, she of course had a bird field guide handy, and while I was still puzzling over his bright orange legs, she announced that we had a caracara in our back yard.
Mom and our neighbor said that they had more fun watching my reactions than they did seeing an unusual bird. Maybe that’s because they don’t subscribe to that Yooper Bird email list thingie, where I’d read that last summer this same type of bird was spotted in Munising and was a super big deal, attracting birders from hundreds of miles away who wanted to spot one in person.
The crested caracara normally makes its home in northern South America, Central America, or Mexico. It’s occasionally spotted in Texas, Arizona, or Florida, but as you can imagine, seeing one up in the 906 is about as unusual as walking in the woods and tripping over an armadillo.
Maybe I was mistaken?
Nope. The nice thing about social media is that about ten minutes after I’d posted it to a Facebook page, someone in Marquette saw my photo and confirmed that I wasn’t mistaken or crazy (or at least, not about the bird thing). Someone in Arizona also saw it, and he contacted a biologist colleague who ironically lives just down the road from my parents. I’m happy to say that he stopped by later and was also able to spot the bird in person to confirm my sighting. I’m even happier that he survived a celebratory nip of whiskey with my dad afterwards.
There’s something kind of ironic that the unofficial national bird of Mexico should bust into my parents’ backyard, unvetted, with no papers, amidst all of the political drama going on these days.
Even funnier? That this is only the second reported crested caracara in the entire state of Michigan, and that first one in Munising has since ditched the US, flew over Lake Superior, and has now settled in Canada.
So much for walls.
I now have friends high and low scouring Delta County for fresh road kill, so that we can keep the caracara in the area. Dad has even joked that he’s going to pull an ice shack out into the backyard as a viewing area for the million bazillion birders who are sure to come to the Yoop, and that he’ll open a Yooper lemonade stand that doesn’t sell lemonade, but rather coffee and hot chocolate and other things to keep crazy winter birders warm (but hopefully not booze because last time I checked, no one in the fam has a liquor license).
If you build it, they will come, right?
Mumma reported to me that the caracara showed up again this morning for a few minutes, munched on some dead deer, and then took off again. It reminds me a little of the movie Dances With Wolves, where Kevin Costner befriends a wolf that keeps visiting him. If my caracara comes calling again, I will name him Two Sock…just kidding. But I might name him Jose or Jesus, as in, “Jesus! A caracara in the UP!”
Be happy, be well, my friends.