I went looking for a falcated duck but found a bigger treasure in a lesson learned from an arctic tern.
People Over Ducks
I pulled off the road and joined the line of cars huddled around the edge of a marshy area. According to my intel, someone had seen the rare falcated duck in this area just hours ago. I glanced nervously at my watch, hoping the duck would float by close enough for me to snap some wonderful photos before I had to head home.
All summer long I had wanted to see this rare bird. But time after time, something else called for my attention. My grandson wanted to visit the park—and who can resist a two-year old? A coffee date with my daughter took precedence over birding.
I struggled to balance my self-care routine (birding plays a huge role in my routine) with being present in the moment with my family during summer vacation. People over ducks, I kept reminding myself.
But on this day, I slipped away for a few hours and took off for Potter’s Marsh south of Anchorage, AK.
As I drove, I thought about all I had wanted to accomplish during summer, but hadn’t. The days marched inexorably towards July, and a new school year loomed. Frustrations I hadn’t worked through from the previous year made it seem like more than I could handle. Visions of early retirement danced in my head.
I took a deep breath and stuffed my worries deep as I gathered my birding supplies and stepped out into the unseasonable heat. For a few hours, I would focus on birding and forget everything else.
A Surprising Find
When I got out of my car, I homed in on a group of people with cameras and binoculars standing right at the edge of the marsh.
“Looking for the falcated duck?” I said, as I walked up to the group.
One photographer shrugged her shoulders. Another shook his head and said, “No, but try over that way,” as he pointed further south.
“Thanks,” I said as I hurried down the road, wondering why they stood there looking so intently at something other than the falcated duck. After all, everyone came to see the duck, didn’t they?
After 45 minutes of scanning the marsh with my binoculars, I saw a birder down the road frantically waving his arms. A group of 15 duck-seekers headed towards him at a controlled trot. Someone had found the bird.
After taking decent, but distant photos, I headed back to my car, elated that I’d seen my target bird. I discovered the same group of photographers standing in the same spot. Curious, I walked over. “What do you see?” I asked.
“A baby arctic tern,” a photographer replied.
Sure enough, right there, practically in the parking lot, an arctic tern chick blended in with a rock. I joined the crowd around the marsh’s edge and started snapping away. The tern chick waddled on impossibly short legs over the bumpy surface of a large boulder.
I snapped photo after photo and finally paused to look at them. Suddenly, the baby tern squawked insistently. One of his parents swooped down and shoved a tiny fish in his mouth before I could get my camera back into position.
A Father’s Call
I had other places I wanted to go, but the gawky arctic tern chick mesmerized me. It calmly
Hundreds of arctic terns and gulls wheeled overhead, calling to their chicks below in the marsh. Vehicles entered and exited the parking area, some pulling to within six feet of the chick.
The cacophony of noise threatened to overwhelm me, and I wondered if the tern chick heard anything at all. And then I noticed a curious thing. Within seconds of the baby breaking out in insistent squawks with his mouth wide open, a parent always appeared with food.
Somehow, despite the chaos, the chick could hear its father’s call from hundreds of feet overhead. It would tip its head back and spread its beak as wide as it could, leaving the perfect target for an incoming food delivery. Sometimes, the delivery seemed more than the chick could handle.
Once, the parent flew off after delivering a giant dragonfly, confident in its offspring’s ability to figure out the problem. After ten minutes, the chick had conquered the insect.
Between feedings, the chick quietly wandered around the rock, preening and stretching its undersized wings. It seemed impossible that those tiny wings would carry it on a 12,000 mile journey in just over a month.
More Than I Bargained For
Two hours later, I had hundreds of photos. As I settled back into my car to head home, a sense of peace filled me. I want to be like the arctic tern chick, so attuned to my Father’s call amidst a chaotic world that I spread my mouth wide and answer, “Here I am! Send me!”
Even if the sending involves tasks that seem overwhelming or more than I can handle. I know my Father will equip me and sustain me.
Somehow, the list of birds I wanted to see seemed tiny in comparison to the relationships I invested in over the summer. And as often happens, I went out looking for a rare bird and found confirmation of my Father’s love instead.Join the #TellHisStory community as we welcome Anita Ojeda as our featured writer. Learn how she went looking for a rare bird and found confirmation of the Father's love instead. #linkup Click To Tweet
I left my introduction for Anita Ojeda till the end because I couldn’t see interrupting the flow of her beautiful words and photos at the beginning. I had the pleasure of meeting Anita several summers ago at a Five Minute Friday retreat. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I met Anita because I had been reading her words for several years already and I always left her online home inspired. Please welcome Anita and share your sweet encouragement in the comments.
Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she’s not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.
Click HERE to go to her website.
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