Close Encounter with
‘Just Another Foglark’
Soon another murrelet ripped
across the sky, and then two more.
I could hear excited chattering
among the trees as the adults fed
By then, there was enough light
in the meadow to reveal another
secret. What a surprise to see, a
mere 50 feet from my car, five
bedded-down Roosevelt elk, enormous bulls with impressive antlers.
They had been there all along, yet
I had neither seen nor heard them.
This close encounter was the
perfect finale to my marbled murrelet adventure, and it made me
think: If I could fail to notice
the proximity of animals as big
as elk—even taking into account
that it was dark—it is easier to
understand how the little marbled
murrelet, with its secretive pre-dawn activities high in the canopy,
eluded us for so long.
It took time and hard evidence
to get to know this bird and to
stretch our minds into accepting what was once unimaginable:
That a seabird had evolved to nest
on the branch of a redwood tree.
Until that happened, those eerie
dawn calls had been chalked up to
“just another foglark.” a
Betsy Rogers lives in western
Washington. She is a long-time contributor to Bird Watcher’s Digest.
of insects. The silence of Prairie
Creek was both restful and, I’ll
admit, a bit spooky.
As the faint light of dawn
began creeping into the sky, I got
out of the car and stood beside a
split-rail fence, straining my ears
and scanning the sky for fast-fly-ing silhouettes. The “early birds”
began murmuring here and there:
Song sparrow, spotted towhee,
Swainson’s thrush. But no alcid
voices split the air, and I began to
fret that the murrelets were not
going to appear after all. Birding
can be like that: You plan, you
wait, and then the bird stands
But, not this time.
Because suddenly, there
they were, three rapidly flying
shapes—“footballs on whirring
wings”—arcing across the sky and
saturating the meadow with their
loud, penetrating, and utterly wild
Keer keer keer!
They flew so fast, on such
direct and purposeful paths
toward the forest, I could not
track them with my binoculars. At
such moments, when in the presence of a living mystery—this little
bird that had kept us guessing for
decades—you lower your bins, let
your senses soak up the experience, and hope with all your heart
that you will remember this rare
adventure for the rest of your life.