The following is posted for Gail E. Menk.

Re: Some Thoughts on Flocks

I am at times intrigued by large flocks of a given species, not withstanding certain negative consequences of such gatherings, i.e., collective bullying away of other species, unmentionable residue, overwhelming monotony, you-name-it. But if one is cognizant that excessiveness of a given species is not always a result of man’s inexorable encroachment on the environment, such large numbers can evoke encouraging hope for future existence of such as Yellow-rumped Warblers and can thusly relieve psychologically the "big drag" of quantitative counting and/or guestimating seeming countless numbers during that "big day" when this nimrod would otherwise just as soon stay home and prune wax myrtle bushes.

The more imaginative observer of such large flocks of certain Icterids and Larids has found inspiration for creative outlet, as did Daphne du Murier in her short story The Birds filmed so effectively by Alfred Hitchcock some years ago. In truth, I am equally intrigued by man’s creative reflection on large numbers of almost non-avian ANYTHING, something which the non-humanoids appear not to enjoy, at least in any great measure.

I suppose the flocks which most grab my attention are those of Common Grackles, which resume their almost endless flow to (sunup) and frow (sundown) during fall season and remind me that autumn holds sway and also elicits such questions as how do they know how to get back to their roost, the answer to which is termed "orientation" – that (fide World Book Dictionary) "ability of many birds and other animals to find their way back to their habitat when going to a point distant from it." Would I possess such innate ability to so GPS my way back to my auto when disoriented in the pine forest on a hot muggy day in July.

ATTENDANT RARITIES AND/OR SCARITIES: While attending a flock of homeward-bound grackles on 15 MAR 1978, I spied a presumed Chimney Swift going with the flow, the earliest record I know of for Leon County. Or was it a lingering Vaux’s Swift: Unlikely? Regardless, it pays to watch grackles!

On another day, while driving through Florida State University, I "glanced" a flock of foraging grackles beset, and with success, by a Cooper’s Hawk, a species I probably not have oterwise3 listed during that outing. But perhaps best of all, I once was advised that there was a Monk parakeet in Tallahassee. Where? WHERE?!! "Just follow your ears and eyes midst a flock of Common Grackles near (what is now) Innovation Park – no problem – you cant miss it!"

Talk about a dominant bird? I could swear that parakeet was in charge, a veritable demonic, nightmarish control-freak as it meandered all over the place – the grackles in tow – screeching and squawking expletively as I looked on not without fascination (still have nightmares) – my only MP/to/date, thanks to those grackles.

(COWBIRDS) Then there was the time that, while I questimated 6,000 Brown-headed Cowbirds at Leon County’s Springhill Road Sewage Treatment Facility, what should emerge but a male Yellow-headed Blackbird. Although one might assume that such a striking bird would stand out conspicuously midst the otherwise blackish "biomass", I was impressed that, had I not been constantly guestimating, there was scant chance that I would have differentiated the blackbird per se which was usually eclipsed by its ever-somersaulting hosts. Hence, it also pays to count cowbirds (by the way, another life bird via Leon County).

A BUDGERIGAR at Tallahassee’s Messer Field was also memorable as it cavorted with a horde of callow cowbirds one day in July (an escapee?) Reminds me that those cute little "budgies" are less and less reported locally, if at all.

It’s always nice to see Sharp-shinned Hawks and I have been so blessed on occasion when watching them harass flocks of Chipping Sparrows and, you might guess, cowbirds.

I have heard with amusement an account by Sally Jue and Howard Horne, who, while examining a large gathering of cowbirds at Leon County’s Southeast Farm, listed a Brewer’s Blackbird. "How did you two pick it out from all those cowbirds?" "It walked right up to us." How droll!

RIGHT PLACE/WRONG TIME: On 2 DEC 1979 after heavy rains, I tallied 62 Wilson’s Snipe plus a Solitary Sandpiper at Tallahassee’s Phillips Road, the latter species a notable out-of season occurrence; I last saw it there on 9 December. This record was so atypical seasonally, that an individual I later monitored at the Springhill Road Sewage Treatment Facility during 5-12 1980 was considered most likely the same bird. The foregoing are the only known county records of Tringa solitaria for December and January.

Field Sparrows increasingly appear to be scarce finds in the Big Bend these days, but having once been advised that an individual can be found among large flocks of Chipping Sparrows, I have since made good use of said birding tip and successfully liste4d the species as recently as 5 February of this year.

I could go on and on with similar discourse but will relent, rest my thesis, and in conclusion would submit that


Gail E. Menk

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