It was a harsh and unforgiving heat. The cruel sun sat high in the sky, baking and desiccating its poor subjects. I disembarked at the Tres Rios biological observation area, hoping to make a quick survey of the avifauna without any local, homo sapien confrontation. Alas, this was not to be. At the beginning of the trail I was forced to remonstrate with two adolescent earthlings who were engaging in a ritual display of manly grit as they drove their all-terrain vehicles in a continually circular fashion. I persuaded them to relocate so they did not taint my species sampling. They were begrudgingly obliging.
The Tres Rios Wetlands combine several different microcosms of common earth habitats, principally riparians swamp and semi-arid woodlands. In one of the first large cottonwood trees there is a noisy conglomerate of roosting Great Blue Herons. I asked them to take me to their leader, but they all flew in different, even opposite directions. Realizing this obvious ruse, I instead continued westward, into the interior of the site.
In these Heron colonies, the young intermingle with the old, learning their wisdom and hearing repeated stories about the "good ol' days."
Although the Heron colonies have a lethargic feeling to them in the afternoon, there are always vigilant sentries on the lookout. With its coiled, powerful neck and spear-like beak, the Great Blue Heron is an elegant killing machine.
Though they boast an impressive wing-span, the Herons are terrestrial predators. Similarly, the large Black Vultures, often seen gliding overhead, must also come to the ground to feed. I cannot help suspecting that as it carelessly sailed above, doing its best to seem nonchalant, this vulture was in fact waiting for me to show a sign of weakness. With its effortless flight and bacteria-proof, calloused head, the Black Vulture is an elegant killing machine.
After the initial, wide entrance area to Tres Rios, the dirt path narrows and follows right along the waterfront. There are many different species to be found in the reeds, and other birds feeding in the shallows.
Along with Snowy Egrets and Green Herons, I was able to spot a few Solitary Sandpipers in the muddy perimeter. These birds do not rank that highly on the inter-galactic beauty scales, but they're not overly common in the area, and they are also elegant killing machines.
There were a few Dowitchers around too, feeding with the motion and speed of a sewing-machine (the kind which I use on my velour uniforms). I tried very hard to turn this into a Short-Billed Dowitcher, but I never could see much of the bill, and have resigned myself to the reality that, despite my many lightyears of travel, all I have yet come away with from my time on earth is the Long-Billed. Long or Short-Billed, they both appear to be elegant killing machines.
As the Tres Rios water-flow widens and deepens, the shorebirds desist and are replaced by flotillas of waterfowl, including Teal, Ruddy Ducks, and American Coots. The Ruddy Ducks and Blue-Winged Teals both have some nice blue accentuations in their coloration. I cannot confirm, but my professional suspicion is that they use these bits of blue to distract their prey before attacking in a manner most befitting elegant killing machines.
With danger lurking around every corner, my phaser was never far from reach. The beautiful but deadly birds were not the only threat. While chasing after a mysterious flycatcher, I came upon a large beehive. These flower-loving insects form massive groups controlled by some sort of whimsical hive-mind. They might well have conquered the earth by now if the individuals did not have such short lifespans, and if their only means of self defense or offense were not also fatal. Though their nectar is sweet, these Bees are not elegant killing machines.
Atop the bee tree there rested this debonaire Western Kingbird. Handsome, cocky, cantankerous...it reminded me of myself as a young lad. As the bird's name, posture, and exuding confidence all indicate, it is an apex predator of insects, a truly elegant killing machine.
But my sightings were not limited to just the large and powerful birds in the Tres Rios area. True enough, I did see White Pelicans, Harris' Hawks, and a Bald Eagle at different points, but the small and dainty birds, the Sparrows, if you will, provided equal intrigue.
This Song Sparrow was chief among the gregarious little birds. After flitting about in the dry reeds, it put on a display of cuteness for which I was not properly prepared. Just as I started to let my guard down, I realized it was a trap. While this lead Sparrow distracted me, its hunting partners had moved in to attack from the sides, ready to slash me into velour ribbons with their elegant, killing-machine claws.
From the sound of the Song Sparrows and the Red-Winged Blackbirds nearby, I knew I was surrounded. I hit the panic button and was quickly beamed aboard to safety. Although it was a narrow escape, I shall return soon to continue my ornithological survey of the planet called Earth.