Friday, June 30, 2006

Attack of the Tyrannus tyrannus

It started out as a perfectly ordinary day at work. I had two inspections to make for aquatic plant control permits, so I headed out in the morning before the weekenders started taking to the roads. The first permit took me to one of the more gorgeous lake homes I had ever seen; it was good-sized but not a huge screaming look-at-me deal; the cedar siding and green roof on the Cape Cod style house fit in nicely with the site. My job there was to look for three rare species of plants; I may have found one.

The second stop took me to this beautiful site:

It was a long downhill walk to the shore. Little did I know what danger awaited me down by the dock.

An Eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) was perched on one of the dock posts, scolding me with a persistent chirping call as I stepped onto the dock. As I walked out, noting the thick beds of water lily and trying to get a look at submerged species, the kingbird was getting more and more agitated. It flew to an overhanging tree, scolding, and by then I knew it must have a nest close by. Suddenly, as I approached the pontoon boat moored to one side of the dock, all hell broke loose.

The fearless Tyrannus started dive-bombing me. At first it circled threateningly overhead, during which time I managed to capture a photo after two failed attempts. Then one swoop, and I felt its wings brush against the back of my head. Okay, I get the message, I'm outta here! If there had been an onlooker in a passing boat, I would have looked hilarious as I ran up the dock, a bird swooping after me.

Time for Plan B. The owners wanted to clear an area about 50 feet away from the dock for swimming, so I put on my waders and went out to have a look around. The kingbirds (by now the mate was scolding me as well) were still agitated, but I thought they might realize that I was now a safe distance away and that I was not out to steal their young. But as I waded waist deep among the yellow water lilies (Nuphar variegatum), one of the kingbirds started circling again. Suddenly it dove at me, and I don't think I've ever moved so fast wearing waders before. I scribbled a few quick notes and headed back up the hill. I think I heard a catbird laughing at me.

Don't mess with us!

I didn't even get a chance to see where the nest was; I didn't see anything in the overhanging tree so it may have been right in the pontoon boat. Those folks are in for a big surprise if they want to go for a boat ride this weekend...


Terry said...

What a great story and photo sequence.
Thanks for this post.

LauraHinNJ said...

Funny story - love those cheeky birds!

Will you have to explain to your boss why you didn't get a good look at the site? *grin*

Floridacracker said...

"Cheeky" Perfect Laura.
That describes the little tyrants perfectly.
Glad you survived.

Deb said...

Terry- thank you!

Laura- actually the person I report this stuff to is a good friend, not my actual boss, so I wrote her a descriptive email, including why I never made it to the end of the dock. I think she'll understand. :)

FC- definitely cheeky. They actually freaked me out! I just don't like winged creatures flying around my head. Gotta love them though.

Pam in Tucson said...

Great story! I had a similar experience in BC with a female Redwing Blackbird. She was very cross with me and definitely didn't want me around. Luckily, it was only one, but I've never been dive-bombed by a bird before and it really scared me.

robin andrea said...

Great story, and wonderful photos. It does feel a bit nutty to be running from a bird, but when it's protecting its nest, watch out! They are persistent. We just started shingling a different part of the house because the tree swallows were quite upset with us working on their side of the house. Of course, when we got to the other side, the house finches scolded us there.

Cindy said...

they don't call they tyrants for nothin' ;) glad you escaped unscathed, I've been bombed by my share.. they're worse than barn swallows when it comes to protecting their nests. Glad that's not my pontoon boat :)

We have a northern goshawk that is nesting on the northeast end of our property- I wouldn't go out there without a hardhat, they'll literally take some scalp off. I admire birds for their protective instincts though.. many parents could learn from them.

MojoMan said...

I like your post title. For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell us about a trip to Jurassic Park.