All Photographs Donegal Browne
Thursday 10:01am Billy Mitchell Field, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Having taken my 20 minute flight from Madison to Milwaukee in a downpour, survived security one more time, (Try going through, with a computer, several cameras of varying sizes, a birding scope often taken for something a sniper night use, several dozen batteries, and all the cables in the world, and see what happens to you.), and plopped down in a seat near the window with a bag that refused to stand up on it's own, and--What are those? The windows are very wet. It's hard to see and I need some magnification.
I start digging in my bag, pull out the camera with the most zoom, boot it up, and ding, ding, ding, bells go off in my head as I realize that the powers that be really, really, really, don't want people taking photographs out the windows of airports.
DRAT! I want to know what those birds are and I want photos. I walk over to the window, thinking fast about what I'll say if someone gets after me about it. I just have to be careful to stick to the birds and not include, planes, buildings, or whatever they might consider a security risk. I remember the time the Monarch Butterflies and the sky were considered a security risk near the Port Authority. There is just no telling.
I'll be calm and sensible-- show them that all I have are bird photos, right? It should be just fine.
What if photographing birds is a security risk? Seems very unlikely but these people can be very tense at times. So I keep the camera in front of me and sit on the floor hoping I look like I'm mooning over the torrential rainstorm that's sweeping across the airfield.
Zoom in and ta da! He's stepping out. It's a pair of Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus. Being Plovers, the kind that are wading birds and hunt by sight, all the water isn't bothering them one bit.
Yes, Killdeer are water birds who often don't nest or even feed near water for great swathes of time.
They like to lay their eggs in gravel. And here is an interesting factoid, they lay eggs that match the gravel in which the eggs are laid. It isn't clear if they are able to vary how their eggs look in some mysterious way to match the substrate they've chosen or whether they pick a substrate that is going to match what their eggs always look like.
Speaking of nesting, and eggs, what is the bi-color lump behind the Killdeer? Is that a hunkered down chick? It would have to be tiny and it's quite late for tiny chicks. Remember the Killdeer in the alfalfa field at Thresherman's Park were full grown and the same size as everyone else in the family.
There's another lump up right. Could that be one? You can tell that I'd love to see some chicks. They are precoccial and beyond cute. Little identical models of their parents though they tend toward only a single neck ring at first.
The other parent, (Identical males and females) looks steadily at yet another lump. Is it a possible eatable or is it a chick. It really does have a bi-color look to it.
Then Dad goes past a lump and Whoopee!! That is undoubtedly a chick!
See! Absolutely a baby Killdeer. And very late they are. Many ground nesting birds lost clutches to the very wet spring and flooding that occurred in Wisconsin. After that, there has been drought so some birds have only finally been successful very late in the year. If the snow holds off as it has for the last few Falls things should be fine.
Little guy is still there, though it wouldn't hurt for him to seek some slightly higher ground I'm thinking and there seem to be a number of lumps up right. Though some of that could be vegetation.
Mom checks the plane, checks the area, and takes off very rapidly at an angle.
In fact both parents do. Though the rain is so heavy and chicks so tiny I've no idea what has become of them.
I console myself with the fact that planes park here many times a day therefore these birds must have it down or they'd have no chicks. Also neither bird is going into the broken wing ruse used for predators. But perhaps planes don't cue that response.
He's looking at something across the way. Is it food or progeny?
Now watching the oncoming plane.
And what is that lump back there?
A chick sheltering in a crack behind a sprig of vegetation.
Aha! A snack. Come to think of it planes probably smack many an insect which then fall to the tarmac.
Karen Anne Kolling
p.s. I forgot to mention that some (all?) of my raccoon visitors smell awful, like they have been zapped by skunks. I never noticed that before when I lived in another state. This has been the case for at least a month.