Sunday, January 22, 2012

Romancing the Northern Ecloutte

The Chicago landscape has grown cold and white from snowfalls that linger, melt, return afresh in a loop of winter energy that is at once disgusting in its intensity and stark in its beauty.  Mostly it makes it difficult to walk (my neighbors must be strangers to the miracle of salt on cement), especially to walk briskly.  We can search the area for birds of any sort along with the local dick measurers, I mean Men Who Watch Birds and the Other Men Who Also Watch Bird Because They're Mostly Retired and What Else Can They Do Since Their Wives Told Them To Either Go Back To Work Or Get A Damn Hobby, Enough Already.  These dudes troll the lakefront and certain parks that are known only to each of them ("If I told you, the park would just be overrun."  "But I won't tell anyone.  My friends don't care."  "Still...") so they can gloat about what they saw and touch themselves earnestly, I mean polish their binoculars.  If there's a photo of a Snowy Owl on the lakefront near 39th Street, they will go there just to see for themselves and maybe walk all the way to the Museum of Science and Industry and back, on the outside chance something might show up.  They can hunch together all they want, because I have seen the Northern Ecloutte and he wants nothing to do with them.

The Northern Ecloutte is a medium-sized bird with a thick, dagger-like bill and a round head.  Its neck is noticeable but not overly long.  Its wing span is surprising wide for a bird of its size but its most striking characteristic is its long fan-like tail.   The feathers are a medium blue on its head and wings while the body is a pale slate gray and the tail is an inky blue, which has been described as black.  The eyelines of the Northern Ecloutte are chevrons of white and black.  Its pale blue-gray crest moves rapidly when the bird is distressed or agitated, letting its enemies and/or prey know that it means some sort of business, that action will be taken.  The tail has been described as lattice-work and "WTF is with that tail?" There are small white mottles in the center of the blue wings.  The feet are dark gray.

Its habitat is the woods of Northern Canada, but not the pine forests which would make its tail less lovely.  It winters in Southern Florida, near the Atlantic Ocean, with a preference to be slightly inland so as not to compete with gulls.  It feeds on insects and berries and the occasional acorn, snatched from an oak before it hits the ground. 

The Northern Ecloutte is shy and solitary but will gather with others of its kind if it is mating season or if more are passing through its basic territory.  The territory of each Northern Ecloutte can be surprisingly wide but is mostly pretty narrow so perfect control can be maintained.

The Northern Ecloutte voice might be described as husky.  As juveniles, the voice is higher and clearer, but the more mature birds have a throaty, husky quality that reminds one of sighing.

I talked to the birders and they were very excited about the Northern Ecloutte.  I shared with them where I saw it and when and they were most anxious to race over to see if it were still in residence.  As for the rest of you, I would love to tell you where I saw it --and I know your wives would love to have a few hours off to maybe watch TV without your supervision and opinions -- but, you know what, the park would just be overrun and that would just scare it off.

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