Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some of my favorite birds

People, kids mostly, always want to know about the superlatives in the bird world.  Which one is faster?  Which one is the biggest?  Which one would win in a battle?  Which one is your favorite?  I can do a pretty good job with all but the last one.  It might even be fun.

Little Bobby:  "If a Great horned owl and a Bald Eagle had a battle, who would win?"

Stephen: "Well, it depends on the battlefield.  Are we talking about in a muddy field by a pond during the day or the pine woods at dusk?  I think the woods at dusk is a better scene for a battle."

Little Bobby: "What is dusk?"

At any rate, you see how it works.  Fun.  That was a made up conversation.

The last of the questions is one I hate to answer and most often dodge nimbly (as nimbly  is the only way I roll). But there are a few that I really like.  Several of those popped into the picture this week and fit quite well into the theme of my blog.  So, i'll talk a bit about them and the people and places involved.

In the vain of the last post, this one involves my day off.  I decided to take advantage of the free "Tourist in Your Own Town" passes since the Center has been filled with participants and I had yet to visit one attraction.  Emily and I took off Wednesday morning for Charlestowne Landing.  I had not visited since the renovations, so I was excited.  Emily had one visit under her belt, and every detail was fresh.  Nice to have a guide.

We headed toward the animal forest preparing to see, lions (cougars), tigers (bobcats) and of course bears.  Oh my, the excitement was palpable.  On the way, I spotted a bird in a tree in the old cemetery.  It was only 20 feet away, but since it wasn't a raptor, I misidentified it initially.  I thought it was a tufted titmouse (Baeolophus = having a small crest bicolor = you can figure this one out, right?).  Neat birds.  I was wrong.  I looked through my binoculars at the solitary bird and realized it was one of my all time favorites, back from the south.  As I put the binoculars down and looked at the bigger picture, I realized he was not alone at all.  A total of 11 cedar waxwings (Bombycilla = silk tail cedorum = they like to eat cedar pine cones) sat peeping quietly in the tree.  Not many birds have the elegance of these little fellas.  Your best suit can't touch the grey on these birds.  Then add the yellow tip on the tail and the Makers' Mark bottle drip on the wing as some of the best flair in the business and you have quite a handsome package.  I go out of my way to experience large numbers of these birds.  Fortunately, they are typically all over the Center in spring and if they are not here, they will likely be between the old College of Charleston library and Maybank hall feasting on holly berries while zipping amongst the college kids.  Nothing like it.

While the waxwings have not arrived on the Center's campus yet, we have been swamped with visitors from the TIYOT pass program this month.  It has been nice to have big crowds for the demonstrations and tours and I have had several nice conversations with guests about birds.  On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a gentleman named Rusty Denman.  I noticed him during the demonstration because he had on a sweet hat (he had some good questions too, but the hat was sweet!)  Mr. Denman was highly complementary of the work we were doing and was genuinely excited about what we are doing.  As I was heading back to the owl wood, he asked me where I was going to be in a few minutes and told me that he had something for me in his car.

Stephen:  "I'm excited already" not knowing whether it was a box of dirty socks or a sock full of diamonds.

Rusty: "Oh buddy, you should be!" 

A couple of minutes later, a smiling Rusty arrived in the owl wood carrying a paper Piggly Wiggle bag.  He pulled out a loaf of bread.  OK, not a sock full of diamonds, but homemade bread is pretty nice too.  It smelled awesome.  His wife makes it, labels it and gives it away.  Under the bread was a Styrofoam food contained labeled "Rusty's Famous Barbecue Chicken" in blue sharpie pen.  He told me about the process.  Pressure, seasoning, more seasoning, grill.  Then there was the sauce.  It looked and smelled great, but it is hard to impress with barbecue sauce.  And there was the little issue of taking random car food from a relative stranger.  Who carries boxes of chicken and loaves of bread in their trunk and gives them to strangers?  

I should mention that the domestic chicken (Gallus domesticus) is pretty high on my list of favorite birds.  They make eggs, which are nice.  They also taste great in a large number of recipes.  I know that the poultry industry leaves a lot to be desired in the the eyes of many (including myself), but for the sake of this blog, think "tasty!"

It will be difficult to describe effectively just how tasty it was.  Monty and I devoured the box of chicken and sopped up the sauce with the bread.  Quite literally, the best BBQ chicken I have ever tasted.  As a musician, I have had every caterer's attempt and while some are really good, none are in the same league.  Thanks Rusty and "Mrs. Rusty".  If I had skills like that. I would carry bags of it everywhere I went.  Now that we're not strangers, I hope that I have many more opportunities to take food from Rusty!


  1. I need a new job where random people bring me famous babecue chicken! Nice blog...I recall watching the waxwings at CofC and one of them smacked into the library window. Dissapointing, but gave us a nice close up view.

  2. Again, I seeth with jealousy that no "strangers" would ever think to give the Clinic some BBQ chicken. Ho hum...poor us.

    Please...someone tell me where I can see some CedarWaxwings! I just love them.