The Sunday Nature Call, uke 41: A walk with my wild side-kick
“Good things come to those who wait.” That expression must have been created by a cheese maker, certainly not a birder. For birders the opposite is true: get up early, change locations, do something. You need to have a bias for action if you want to be a birder. On Saturday I took my own advice and was rewarded, but not just with new birds.
Knoppsvane (Cygnus olor)
Brunnakke (Anas penelope)
Siland (Mergus stellata)
Kvinand (Bucephala clangula)
Smålom (Gavia stellata)
The upcoming week was going to be a long one, I needed to maximize my time with the family in preparation for my absence. But you know how it is when you have an obsession, a drive, an itch that just has to be scratched. I got up when I woke up before the sun came up. The harbor, I needed to get to the harbor at Fornebu and maybe catch sight of some birds at rest while on migration.
If I caught the first bus down the hill, I thought, then I could make a quick dash to high probability areas and get back before everyone else got rolling for the day. #2 son padded into the kitchen, “Where are you going?” he asked while rubbing the sleep from his eyes. I told him. With a groggy voice but brightening eyes he asked to come along. Of course, that would make me happy I said, and it was the truth.
Now, getting greedy, he asked if this could be something,”just the two of us do,” you know, exclude #1 son. No, we need to ask your brother, I said. But my mind was a couple of steps ahead of my words because I knew it was an easy bet #1 son would pass.
We got ready. Brother asked what was going on. Before I could speak #2 excitedly informed him. I asked brother if he also wanted to come along? “No,” was his vacant reply and he slipped down the hall to craw in bed with his mother.
Off. #32 Bus, switch at Lysaker. Snarøya bus to Fornebu: quick, quick. Feet. Down the asphalt path, past the curling club building and to the bay.
It was a gay walk with #2 son, or as we call him, “Little Bear,” or just “Bear.” Though I would prefer to walk in silence, my heart isn’t hard enough to repress the joy that babels out of the mouth of babes. Choose to smile and enjoy.
The birding bounty was immediate. Charismatic white birds were across the bay, two of them. Certainly they were Knoppsvaner, and with four young.
Many mallards swam about, aimlessly. A puddle duck that wasn’t a mallard made a bee-line to my shore, to hide in the tall grass. A female, and cryptically marked, but my suspicion was confirmed by picture and text, a Brunnakke.
Bear was enjoying his turns at the binoculars. It was cool out but not cold, and no wind to speak of, such luck. A small flock of odd long-necked birds passed. Dark against the gray sky, there was no way I could make an identification. It bet they were cormorants, next time.
Fornebu was the airport for Oslo. Since the opening of Gardermoen lufthavn in 1998, the sprawling peninsula has been repurposed with planned communities, corporate office parks, sporting venues, and oh so many trails. Like Stapleton in Denver, they retained the control tower as an homage to the area’s past.
We walked a little further east on the path. New two-story apartment blocks unostentatiously overlooked the bay. A boy played with a golf club and a handball, alone. The surprising noise of laborers working on a new block punctuated the stillness. And they say Norwegians don’t work on Saturdays! Well, I do think I overheard the workers speaking something like Polish.
A small tongue of land jutted into the bay as if it was added for the enjoyment of people. I snapped and held Little Bear back. A small black and white duck was now quickly swimming in the opposite direction. Too conspicuous for its own good, just bagged a Kvinand. I released the hound.
Running to the tip of the tongue, Little Bear pointed across the bay. A knoppsvane was closing the distance, first it was exciting, then I got a little worried. Knoppsvaner have a reputation for aggression. How could we be too close to the babies?
The answer became apparent as the babies came across the bay too, in a hurry. They expected to be fed. The babies, whined. Bear and I enjoyed their closeness. Then, not receiving their expected treats, the babies would take turns making threatening hisses. The first time it happened, Bear’s eyes became as big as saucers with anxiety, betraying the bravery of his nickname.
We idled a bit. A strange diving bird was just a tickle too far for my zoom lens. I was hoping it might work closer for a better look. A grebe maybe? Uh, well not a duck, and not a goose. Its diving movements were so quick, so furtive that I was perplexed (with books and the internet, mystery solved).
I suggested that we walk on, Bear gave no complaint. He offered to carry the binos. We reached a neighborhood, we would clearly have to walk about another 10 minutes to hit the other bay. In my improvement as a father I knew it was better to leave early than risk a rebellion or disenchantment. I asked the Little Bear if he wanted to press on or go back.
Clearly he thought the correct answer was to press on. But his heart and his stomach where pining for a return home. I offered that I was getting a little chilled, an out; we turned about.
Like the walk in, Bear asked to hold my hand. Oh, melt my heart. “Dad, can I hold you hand?” is one of the sweetest and best questions I ever get asked. “Yes, please.” Little does the Little Bear know that this practice will atrophy all too soon. He won’t miss it, but I will.
We walked, further than anticipated, to catch the bus. There was time to talk, and silence, and hand holding, and rock throwing. There was time to hear, “Dad, I really like bird watching with you.” There was time to look, really look at my beautiful little boy and try to memorize every feature of his fresh face.
I left early to capture some birds. I returned with memories, sure, of birds. But the better memories were of time with my Little Bear.
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh