“If you have lived, take thankfully the past.” ~ John Dryden
Annual traditions and holidays in my country have been leaning more and more toward rampant consumerism and waste — two things, you may already be aware, I despise in calling myself ‘American.’
We can do so much better than that.
The true story of Thanksgiving taught to me in my youth was one of two peoples, the natives and new colonists of a yet-born America making the best of their tenuous relationship, each helping the other in his own way to survive the impending winter. Details notwithstanding, their meal had nothing to do with exploitation of animals or buying up gadgetry the day after. I wonder what the natives and colonists would think of our madness today.
We break from this American tradition doing what we love to do together: being a part of nature and shooting birds with a camera. We packed a picnic feast of our own, gathered up our field guides and camera gear, and headed south to the coast.
There’s no better place to begin a day of gratitude than in our own backyard; we started and ended it in the same way — camping. As temps dipped into the 40’s, and with the usual neighborhood traffic noise slowing to a hum, we huddled up for a warm and quiet slumber under mounds of afghans and blankets and were awoken only by the barred owls and coyotes or the zipper-rustle of someone going out to pee. Though the comforts of a modern house with its plumbing, forced air, and mattresses are hard to give up, there is something rejuvenating about waking up like this with the people that you love most.
We reached Galveston fairly early in the morning to find only a few people out milling about. The rest were most assuredly in their homes with their families getting ready to dine on a feast with a bird center stage. We, on the other hand, were going to revere the fowl in a less disturbing way. It is fitting that the first beautiful bird we saw was the Sandhill Crane just off the road and most likely just arrived for the winter to local coastal estuaries. I shot them — as I did all the others — with a Tamron 150mm-600mm telephoto lens and a Canon 60D DSLR, new to my bag of tricks.
LaFitte’s Cove in Galveston is normally bristling with migratory bird activity, but the human caretakers were in the process of rebuilding the birds’ watering hole, building it up higher to reduce the number of snakes coming to the all-you-can-eat bird buffet. “Under construction,” the sign read. We were fortunate enough to be visiting with a LaFitte resident on his property when Angie spotted our first Common Loon of the year, right off his pier. He urged our family to return and bird from his porch next April, an invitation we are very likely to accept for the busy spring migration.
Lacking the usual crowds, the ferry ride was a quick trip this time. An ominous plume rose across the bay, most likely a grass fire and not one of the industrial type.
As I was kneeling, taking a picture of a most willing brown pelican subject, above us flew a huge flock of birds. We thought it to be snow geese, but on closer inspection, it was a squadron of more than a hundred brown pelicans, and what a shot with the moon!
Thank you, Little Buddy, for calling all of your friends over for me.
I really wasn’t kidding about the hundred. I’ve never seen so many at once.
At Bolivar Flats, the kids wanted to run and play in the sand and look for sea shells, because, well, that’s what kids do.
We left them on their own in the wide open space to run and frolic as they like, keeping our area quiet and peaceful to ID some shore birds. We added these beauties to our list (they are linked to their photos) in their absence:
- Marbled Godwit
- White-rumped Sandpiper
- Long-billed Curlew
- American Golden-plover
- Forster’s Tern
- Royal Tern
- Piping Plover
We also spotted a beautiful European Starling with his iridescent plumage, a Willet, and Great Blue Heron strutting along the surf, but these were already on our list from earlier in the year.
Heading back across the ferry, Dad noticed a conspicuous flock of black and white birds in them. These were the Black Skimmers, the bird of the day for us. They fish by dragging their lower mandibles along the water, reacting with a quick closing when it hits something (like a fish). It is quite the unusual bird for its unique fishing ways and the first viewing of it for our family. Joy!
The tide rolled in quite quickly; we very nearly got stranded on the sand bar. It now made sense why many folks were on 4×4 ATV’s. They zoomed off…we, on the other hand, sprinted to keep toes and pants dry.
As the sun set, the lighting made for a perfect end to a perfect day. A total of ten new species of birds were added to our Big Year list!
It’s a brand new start.
Some traditions are made to be broken, particularly those where cruelty is at the center of the table. And for our Most Grateful Day — now and in the future — animals will remain undisturbed in the wild for us to enjoy through field lenses and camera sights.
Our hope is that others will agree that death of another being — in particular untold cruelty to any domesticated being — is not necessary to enjoy a day of love and gratitude.
Join us in adopting a cruelty-free Thanksgiving tradition.
Go Vegan — if only for this one day!