One very hot morning in May, I was collecting butterflies in South Texas. I just wanted a few specimens from this area then it would be off to the bird watching. This was some years ago and this particular area along the arroyo was still pretty and uninhabited. Desert type wildlife was abundant, including some armadillos and very big rattlesnakes. Watching each step I took kept my eyes from looking up the bird life around and above me. Since this is one of the foremost bird watching areas in the U.S.A. I made sure I had my binoculars with me.
Butterflies were everywhere but so were the rattlesnakes and they both seemed to gather in the most unreachable places. Thick brambles and thorny vines were destroying my butterfly net so I just gave up and backed out of that area. From there I made my way down to the canalís muddy banks. After getting cut up with the briars and avoiding the snakes it was time for some relaxing time with the binoculars along the canal. It wasnít long before a little Green Kingfisher dived into the water just in front of me and this was a new life list bird. I picked up 5 or 6 new birds for my list that day. Then in the heat of the day when all other birds seem to hunt for shade and rest in quietness, I caught a flash of yellow near the far bank. What was that? Something hit the water. All of a sudden a bright yellow bird emerged from the water and flew to a nearby post. What kind of a bird was it and what kind of a call was that? Was it a flycatcher or kingfisher?
My field guide identified it as The Great Kiskadee Fly Catcher. I had never seen such a large flycatcher and didnít know they dived for fish. This bright, yellow-breasted bird had brown wings and back. They range from South Texas all the way down through Mexico and into South America. At approximately 9-11 inches in length and with a call that almost gives its name away, it was an impressive bird to watch.
On one of my return trips to the Rio Grande Valley I found one of their nest, which appeared to be just a ball of sticks with a hole on the side. The nest was tucked away in a mesquite tree and trying to climb up and photograph that nest was next to impossible. Mesquite trees provide a safe haven for many types of birds and this one was no exception. Proceeding no more than three or four fee off the ground, I gave it up. Thorny vines and other briar covered limbs grabbed out at me from every direction. I love photographing birds and other wildlife, but this was just too much. Enough was enough.
Kiskadees can often be seen perched on top of a fence post or a low hanging limb just over the water and will not hesitate to dive for a fish or frog. They also chase flying grasshoppers and other winged insects and rarely miss with their accuracy. The Great Kiskadee mates for life and defend their territory with a vengeance and they build their nests in some pretty inaccessible spots.
After many attempts at photographing the Great Kiskadee Iíve only managed a few distant shots. These were taken in my relativesí back yard as the birds came to eat their palm fruit. I blamed my poor performance with the camera that day on the fact that the rattlesnakes prohibited me from sneaking up on this new photo subject. This is a slight exaggeration but I was concerned and so should you be when probing in unfamiliar territory. Always be aware of your surroundings as you study and photograph nature.
God has provided some very beautiful sights and creatures in this world for us to enjoy. Satan has also provided some very interesting and deadly pitfalls within these beautiful areas so remember to look before you step. Carry a walking stick and beat the bushes in front of you to warn these creatures you are coming. Most will move out of your way or at least warn you of their presence. Have fun and Iíll meet you out on the trail some day.
- Uncle Burney
("McDonald Manna" November, 2006)