I suspect I’ll never live long enough ever to see the mysteries of celestial black holes fully revealed. But I could die a happy man today, having finally seen, in full-feathered glory, what mysteries transpire beneath nesting black oystercatchers.
Oystercatchers are such gorgeous and fascinating beings, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a single favorite characteristic. Most folks would probably point first to the bright orange beaks and trim that combine, somehow, to help these birds “hide in plain sight.” Others might cite their raucously musical voices, often raised in chorus, explaining why I often detect their social gatherings with my ears before my eyes. And don’t even get me started on those funny, funny feet — they’re the envy, I’m sure, of serious clowns everywhere.
Whatever force of nature wove such improbable elements together into a single ball of feathers created not merely a bird, but an actual icon of faith for adoring observers like me. As scientists tirelessly scan the starry skies above, fruitlessly (so far) searching for … something, anything alive elsewhere in the Universe … you will find me instead, every chance I get, encamped near an always richly rewarding bird nest. From there I can observe and contrast to my heart’s content the myriad brilliant life strategies that different species display, with every such experience bringing me a bona fide “bird in hand” moment forever worth all the “two in the bush” rovers mankind might ever dispatch to kick up dust on Mars. Not just birds, in fact, but all manner of creatures great and small, are “little green men” enough for me.
The video pretty much speaks for itself, but a bit of additional perspective might prove helpful. I’m always ready and willing to search far and wide for interesting sights of interest to my very demanding camera, but in this case I needn’t even step off the beaten path. The pair of proud parents pictured above, for reasons known only to them, chose a nest site in a very public and popular state park, so very near the fence protecting them from human intrusion that the zoom lens on my camera all but zoomed me into the nest with them. I had to pinch myself.
As a hedge against the steady stream of coast visitors singularly focused on snapping selfies on the wrong side of said fence — despite prominent signage warning against it — dedicated local volunteers frequently stood guard nearby, weathering wind and sun and rain and fog throughout much of the month-long nesting cycle. Coast-wide, the waves of humanity determined to boldly go where few have posted to Facebook before are increasingly making life difficult for nesting oystercatchers. My personal favorite nesting site, which during my 20ish seasons on Nature’s Coast has hosted as many as four nests annually, this year saw just a single pair of birds gamely struggle to achieve nesting success in the face of a seemingly inexorable tide of human encroachment.
Thus while a successful hatch is more miraculous than ever, these days, it’s merely the start of a long, danger-filled journey for an oystercatcher family. Newly hatched chicks, unable to fly for several weeks, are highly vulnerable on the ground to a wide variety of hungry predators. Adult birds, too, are ever at risk — as the video shows, entanglement in discarded fishing twine appears to have cost the female a toe, and observers more knowledgeable than I surmise that her nasty-looking chest wound was likely suffered during nest defense (she was relentless against crowding crows, in particular). For these and many more good reasons, one should never imagine it easy to be an oystercatcher.
Admittedly, my camera isn’t exactly on par with the Hubble Space Telescope. And as otherworldly exotic as black oystercatchers might appear to me, Klingons and Romulans will likely always dominate the big alien conventions in ‘Vegas. But watch the video above and ask yourself — are there not enough fascinating forms of life to discover right here on planet Earth, literally in our own back yards, to keep all of humanity constructively engaged in wonder for eons of lifetimes to come? I sure think so. Just point me to a busy bird nest, and as I said at the top, I could die a happy man.