Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Leave No Stone Unturned!

That is the official motto of the Ruddy Turnstone, one of America's most flamboyant shorebirds. What makes these birds particularly endearing is not just their color or recognizability, but the intricate variation in each individual's plumage. Despite their bold color scheme, it's hard to find two Ruddy Turnstones that have the same pattern. One thing is for sure: there should be an ice cream flavor inspired by this bird. It should probably involve fudge, caramel, heath bar, vanilla...and something else. Better get the Ben n' Jerry's guys on it.

I had the pleasure of observing a rowdy group of Ruddy Turnstones on the Jersey shore earlier this June. They chattered with each other and scrambled all over the wharf. At first glance they seemed to feed in a very stochastic fashion, but like many other shorebirds, they were actually very precise and deliberate with their pecking. One might say they even have a pecking order...

This shaggy gang elicited a laugh from me more than once. The way they all wanted to stay close together, and yet how they also seemed very impatient and irritated with each reminded me of the Wes Anderson dysfunctional family trope that comes up in movies so often. Hopefully this photo explains the dynamic better than I can. They have to stay close to each other, but they're all looking in different directions (and one seems to be banging it's head against the rock) as if they hate to admit how inseparable they really are. So much angst...

This fine fellow (same bird as the first photo) was the patriarch. As you can see, his mustache grows right up and connects his eyebrows. Chuck Norris, John Wayne, Bear Grylls, Robert Howard, and all the other manly paragons of our age...none of them could accomplish this feat even in a hundred years even with a swimming pool full of rogaine.

He stood stoically atop his pedestal and watched over the Turnstones with all the sternness and facial patterns of a stormtrooper. He and his group brought a certain calm to the wharf, even as the waves crashed all around them. The other birds used the Turnstones as their danger-gauge. As long as the Turnstone were happy, so was everyone else. When they became startled, everyone took flight. Together they all formed a very colorful and motley gang.

I couldn't have asked for a better look at a new bird. Thank you Ruddy Turnstones, high five!