Avian visitors worth moment’s gander

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

Clovis had a weird visitor the other day. Well, the critter probably doesn’t think it looks weird, but this was a strange looking bird to be in our part of the country.

I was at my day job south of town off Curry Road K amidst all the open fields. I was on my way to the copier when the beautiful sunrise grabbed my attention.

Something else grabbed my attention: Wandering through the dry grass was this long-legged critter. It would step and step and step then touch its long, curved bill to the ground. Now, I’ve seen plenty of herons hanging around local lakes, jabbing their straight beaks into the waters and coming up with a fish. But I’d never seen a bird with such a long, curved bill.

From what I know about birds, this guy probably belonged around water; something there isn’t too much of south of town.

“Buddy, I think you got blown off course,” I said. Of course the bird couldn’t hear me. I had the door closed. I’m not sure it would’ve understood what I said anyway.

So I sent an e-mail describing the winged critter to the man who knows everything about wildlife here in eastern New Mexico, Wes Robertson from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department.

Game Warden Wes wrote back that the bird is a long-billed curlew and that they’re common around here this time of year as they head north to their warm-weather stomping grounds on the Great Plains of the northern United States and southern Canada.

Game Warden Wes went on to describe other odd birds that have dropped in on Clovis from time to time. For instance there was the white pelican that camped out at Greene Acres Lake a while back. Then there was the osprey dive-bombing the golf course ponds for goldfish some time ago.

Everyday birds don’t catch my eye too much; pigeons are everywhere, sparrows flit around like flying mice and grackles are grackles. It’s the unique ones that interest me, but not everyone feels that way.

For instance, there was that time I was living in Roswell and I caught a ride to Albuquerque with my boss. We were zipping north on U.S. 285 through that vast rolling plain south of Vaughn when a red-tailed hawk swooped low near the car.

“Wow, look at that thing, isn’t it great?” I said as I watched it fly off over the tall grasses.

“It’s a %*#@ bird,” said my boss. “What’s the big deal?”

One of my favorite birds to watch for is the scissor-tailed flycatcher, state bird of Oklahoma. The first time I saw one was near Chillicothe, Texas. I had pulled over at a rest stop during a long haul when I spied this small bird with a long tail flying over the wildflowers of a Texas spring. It would loop and dive, looking like it was just having the best time catching bugs, oblivious to how magnificent it looked.

So check it out next time you see a weird bird around town; a stilt-legged heron plucking a goldfish from Greene Acres Lake, seagulls kicking back in Dennis Chavez Park or you might even get to see a long-billed curlew. If you do, invite it in for coffee. It might not take you up on that but maybe it’ll appreciate the gesture.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at:
blisscreek@plateautel.net