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It was the fourth time I had interrupted this fellow's solitude and I knew I either had to strike up a conversation and explain what I was doing, or allow the young Amish man to go on believing that I was actively stalking him through the woods.
"Hi there," I said waving a gloved hand that held a large roll of yellow caution tape. "I, um, I'm marking out a course for a bicycle race."
He responded with one of those wordless upward nods which says in essence, "Thanks for telling me that but I'm really not concerned with what you are doing." It was then that I saw the binoculars in his hands.
"Hey, wow, are you birding?" I chirped.
Another upward nod.
"Have you seen anything unusual today?" I said, now fully bulldozing myself into his peaceful endeavor.
"Well," he said calmly, "I have seen some White-winged Crossbills this morning and ..." He didn't even have a chance to finish.
"Holy smokes! I just saw a pair of Crossbills over near my place in Orrville just yesterday!" I blurted.
It's entirely possible that this guy was just a tad bit freaked-out by my enthusiasm, but not many folks in my immediate circle would give two hoots about spotting the sparrow-sized nutcracker. It was as if I'd just discovered a long-lost cousin!
"Well that's a bit unusual," he said. "There must be a few of them moving through here."
The conversation had begun and now it was off to the races and the bird jargon began to, well, fly.
Within minutes we had established enough of a bird-lover's kinship that he revealed something else he'd spied in the woods that morning -- and a rare bird for these parts indeed.
"And I'll tell you," he said. "I also followed the chirping of a number of little birds over to that clump of shrubs where I found a Saw-whet owl."
"No way!" I said. "Do you suppose he's still there?"
Within minutes I was staring at an owl no larger than a good-sized coffee cup perched so far back in the thicket that without my new friend, Aaron, I couldn't have found it if the bird was painted orange and had a giant flashing arrow above its head.
In thanking him, I handed off my phone so he could alert a few other birder friends in the area, then I went back to my work laying trail for the race through the back country of the arboretum. After an hour or so of plotting course it was time to ride, and my buddies and I convened at the truck to change into our cycling duds and grab our bikes. Just as we were ready to roll a small caravan of cars plastered with Wilderness Center, Ducks Unlimited and Sierra Club stickers pulled in next to us. Buoyed by my earlier success in nosing myself into someone else's business I rolled up next to the cars.
"You ladies want a hot tip?" I said, forgetting for the moment that in full-blown cycling gear I present a fairly strange sight in and of myself.
The ladies seemed initially terrified.
"You're here to look for birds, right?" I said, pointing to the binoculars that hung around each of their necks. "There's a Saw-whet owl up on that hillside. ..."
"That's what we're here to see!" they shouted in unison.
Ten minutes later, half a dozen middle-aged women in earth tone denim were crouched in the underbrush alongside five guys in brightly-colored Spandex staring at a tiny sleeping owl. A fine collection of rare birds indeed!
(Check out a photo of our little Saw-whet owl on my Facebook page at JohnLorsonSendHelp. And as always, be sure to "Like" it while you're there!)