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Share Your Birds-and-Eclipse Stories

“Oh. Oh! Wow! Part of the sun is missing! It’s not there! This is for real. Stop the car!”

Left to right: Andrew Floyd, Hannah Floyd, and Jack Solomon ponder an eclipse of the sun. Platte County, Wyoming, USA, Aug. 21, 2017.

We’re in Platte County, Wyoming, population 9,000. This is the sort of place where you can drive for miles without seeing another car. But today it is the world’s largest tailgate party. We creep along for another mile or so, finally spotting an opening in a gully by a cattle guard.

“The whole world is here,” someone in my party declares. True enough: Our gullymates are from Munich and Baton Rouge. The Münchner are especially gregarious, and we get to talking about the handful of birds in the sorry-looking windbreak across the way: ein Sperling und eine Taube (a Chipping Sparrow and a Mourning Dove). Nobody can figure out how to say kingbird (Western) and phoebe (Say’s), and we all get a chuckle out of Grashüpfer. Speaking of which, they and their kin—Grillen und eine Zikade—are going off. They know, in their own way, that something big is going down.

Totality is even better than advertised. According to one of my traveling companions, experiencing the eclipse “was like looking into a black hole, the dark and fathomless eye of an angry Old Testament god about to smite you. His white, wispy hair was, in the form of the sun’s corona, floating around the bottomless pit of the eye. Awesome, amazing, transformational. The image of totality will remain with me till I die.”

Two hundred miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic? It’s all good.

What he said. But I have to say that something else was even more striking than staring straight into the heart of what looked freakily similar to a black hole and its accretion disk. I’m talking about the humans. For two minutes we held our collective breath. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. All of us—the chatterbox Germans, the cigarette-smoking Louisianans, my own party of sundry goofballs, and everybody else out there—stood together in awe and wonder. It was like being in church—an old-fashioned church service where nobody says a word.

Getting home took forever. We finally pulled into the driveway at 7:30. Do the math. I have to say, though, that the 200-mile traffic jam put me in good spirits. There’s something deep and powerful about the idea that all those people traveled all that distance to accomplish, in a very real sense, absolutely nothing.

This Say’s Phoebe poses in the weird, diffuse light a bit before the onset of totality. The bird seems to be surveying the vast throng of humans witnessing the eclipse. What is your eclipse story?

It’s funny—At dinner the night before, we were joking about the meaning of life. Well, I think we figured it out during totality: Put 10,000 perfect strangers out in a field in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. Do that often enough, and I’m pretty sure world peace would follow. Shakespeare saw it. In his play Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare makes a character say, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

The eclipse was two days ago, but I know it’s still fresh on our minds. What was it like where you were? For starters, did you see or hear any birds? Did you notice any curious behaviors? And who were your human companions? What were they like? Let’s talk about it. In one sense, the conversation won’t accomplish a thing. But who knows: Maybe sharing our experiences together will nudge us just a bit closer to world peace and the meaning of life.

 

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Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine at American Birding Association
Ted Floyd is the Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives of the ABA. He is the author of more than 100 magazine and journal articles, and has written four recent books, including an ABA title, the ABA Guide to Birds of Colorado. Floyd is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and state ornithological society meetings, and he has served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations. Mainly, he listens to birds at night.
Ted Floyd

Latest posts by Ted Floyd (see all)

  • Carl Bendorf

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f739a90aad0852f422d1c995d0695054cda7d171521d3f1b3a7a93a1290f026.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fec09eef6c24160d92d7d95a27d43bb2d666ac0b65f5ab97c27cbc1f469142fd.jpg We spent the morning in Rocky Mountain National Park but didn’t even have eclipse glasses or filters for the camera. While eating our picnic lunch in Endovalley, a passing cloud at the peak (93% here) created the perfect amount of filtering to snap a few photos. When I got home, I realized the Band-tailed Pigeon we saw at the YMCA of the Rockies was sporting the same crescent on his nape.

  • Steve Hampton

    Here’s my story from Unity, Oregon, sagebrush country. Species list was limited to Common Raven, Sage Thrasher, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Brewer’s Sparrow. The last one sang a full song about ten minutes before totality. https://memoriesofthepeople.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/totality-visions/

  • Frank Izaguirre

    A Carolina wren definitely started emphatically singing five minutes or so before we experienced the totality, but other than that I didn’t notice odd bird behavior. Some orthopteran species starting singing as well.

    But, similar to your adventure, I think the big highlight for us besides the phenomenon itself was the friends we made: an older couple from Virginia that watched the eclipse alongside us. We had a great time talking to them as they told us about different trips they’d taken, sailing through the Panama Canal and such things. I think we reminded them of their younger selves, because as we were leaving the wife told us she felt like we had “many adventures ahead of us.” And I think hearing that was worth the trip itself.

  • GnTnZ GnTnZ

    At Castle Gardens Petroglyph site, approx 30 miles E of Riverton Wyoming, bird activity was quiet until just after the period of totality, when 4 Common Nighthawks put in a brief appearance.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d656c54b428e922e40f0c53628bd1f177aa5fe1f89ff649769298b9d438a407d.jpg

    • Liz Deluna

      That is the coolest photo I’ve seen so far. Thanks.

      • Diane Yorgason-Quinn

        Someone who calls herself DeLuna should know!

        I saw it in Durkee, OR, in a gravel parking lot with 500 other people who managed to scare off any birds with all their chatter, but otherwise this was totally perfect! A single TV lifted off afterwards in the returning heat.

  • Phillip Davis

    Total Eclipse Observations – Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in South Carolina

    Background
    My wife, Barbara, and I traveled to Summerville, SC to visit my brother and his wife during the recent total solar eclipse.

    My brother is a avid feeder of hummingbirds and he maintains approximately 13 feeders in his yard and attached to his windows. Earlier in the summer, he had estimated that he was feeding approximately 80 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. When we arrived from Maryland, a few days before the eclipse, he noted that many of the males had recently left and estimated that the flock was, conservatively, about 35 birds. I think that the number might have been even higher, perhaps 35-50.

    My brother lives about 15 miles northwest of downtown Charleston at approximately 32.91N, -80.24W. At this location, the time of totality was 1 minute and 22 seconds, beginning at approximately 2:45:42 pm and the eclipse altitude was approximately 62 degrees above the horizon.

    Pre-Eclipse
    On the afternoon of the eclipse, 21 Aug 2017, the sky was mostly cloudy and a short rain shower was forecast to begin about 30 minutes before totality.

    Around 2:15 pm, showers did begin and it rained fairly hard for about 15 minutes and then slowed up around 2:30 before stopping prior to the period of totality. During the heavy showers, the hummingbirds left the feeders and retreated to the woods, about 100 feet behind the house, as they normally do during heavy rains. As the showers slowed and then stopped, before totality, the birds returned, as usual, in force, to the feeders. On many feeders, 2 and 3 birds were feeding at once, compared to the more normal case where one bird dominates a feeder for several minutes and then relinquishes the feeder to another bird.

    As the sky started to noticeably darken, the birds were very actively feeding. We noted that about 8 minutes before totality began, the birds began to leave the feeders and head back to the woods. By one minute before totality, the last bird had left the feeders. We did not notice any other unusual bird activity in the yard, except for one American Crow, flying furiously overhead, apparently heading back to a roost. We did not hear the local Barred Owls calling, that we heard the evening before.

    Totality
    During totality, the ambient light was very dark, but not totally dark. Since the sky was mostly cloudy, the sun illuminated the clouds that were lower on the horizon, beyond the 71 mile-wide totality path (i.e., about 35.5 miles on each side). These distant illuminated clouds reflected light back from the sides of the totality zone, preventing total darkness at our location. However, the sky’s lighting effect was still very dramatic and it was very much darker than would have been the case during just a partial solar eclipse. We did not note any bird activity during totality.

    Post-Eclipse
    Immediately after totality ended, the increase in light level was dramatic, as if someone was turning up a lighting dimmer switch. The eclipse exit change in light level was much more apparent to us than the earlier eclipse entrance.

    We did not see a hummingbird return to a feeder until about 4 minutes after totality when a single bird returned. At about 8 minutes after totality, more birds started to show up and by about 14 minutes after, the flock seemed to have returned to normal and was feeding furiously.

    Summary
    In summary, it appears that the local Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were inclined to stay at the feeders and feed as long as possible and then quickly leave as the sky darkened before totality and they were much slower to return the feeders after the period of totality ended. Perhaps they were “confused” about what was happening and were reluctant to leave their “night” roosts?

  • stockpix

    I was at Yaquina Head ONA where the eclipse first made landfall. Just a minute or two prior to totality a group of four Dowicher popped out of the fog over the middle of the headland headed north at about 15 feet off the deck. I did not attempt to identify to species.

  • George Lynn Paul

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e4b1321e5a90ccbbec62b3894233abc565006fbea227c4b133c0f2e48c526a64.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9cb3bf6fb04263a01a775ae00d224c5e12ebc2ef72519af618d88ca3ec547d58.jpg

    We saw and heard many wonderful species during our three-day, total eclipse camp near Jackson, Wyoming: Wonderful Spotted sandpipers teetering along the river; Bald Eagles flapping over parking lots; ravens of course; chickadees; mountain bluebirds; mergansers; geese; grouse; vultures; and many more. We stayed near our camp during the eclipse and viewed the spectacle from a large meadow across from some cliffs towering over the “Wild and Scenic” Gros Ventre River (see photo). It was absolutely still — and sublime even — during the two partial eclipse phases, and during totality. I neither heard, nor saw, any birds at all in the meadow during the 3 hour period. BUT I did notice something unusual, or which seemed out of the ordinary, about an hour after totality. Our immediate camp was in a copse of spruce bordering a smaller meadow (see photo). Chickadees were there. And on the two previous evenings in this copse, just as dusk was starting, I had heard American Robins not singing, but making what has been called their “yeep and cuck” calls, also called their “yeep and tut” calls. I did not see them — only heard then. The only time they made such noise was around 7:00 pm or thereabouts. But, on the day of the eclipse, I heard robins in the copse making such calls at about 12:30 or so — near the end of the partial eclipse in our area — just as the sun was beginning to shine more fully.. Sorry not to report anything more dramatic, but it did seem like the robins were making their yeep and tut calls in the middle of the day, rather than in the evening. I can’t remember them calling in the mornings, but they probably were. I have read such calls are a sort of mild alarm call, but they seemed to make the call more in the ordinary course of their day than in response to any threat.

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