Disney World in frigid Florida. We’re here to celebrate the season with a family vacation.

I’m doing “naked bird watching,” which means birding without binoculars.

I get questions: “Hey, are those crows?” “No,” I say, “Turkey Vultures.”

Vultures are common as mouse ears at Disney.

As we move around, I notice Boat-tailed Grackles, Black Vultures, Little Blue Herons, and a Limpkin on a golf course.

I don’t say “Limpkin” to anyone. Stupid bird names make bird watchers sound stupid, themselves. Limpkin?

The kids in our clan ask about stork-like birds that walk around the place. ”They’re Ibises,” I say.

Soon, a five-year-old is shouting, “Can I give a potato chip to the Ibises?” This turns heads.

As days pass, I’m asked about other birds. I have all the answers, but don’t worry: I’m headed for a fall.

Meanwhile, I’m quick with names: “A Snowy Egret,” I say, “A Common Egret, Forster’s Terns, a Bufflehead, a Water Pipit, a Man o’ War.”

(I even spot an armadillo in the palmettos. Not all wildlife sightings involve wings.)

When somebody incorrectly points out a cormorant, I say, with great patience: “No, that’s an Anhinga.”

Hubris is raising its fat head in the land of the Ibis.

Then, one bright cold morning there’s a flock on Bay Lake that’s so unusual, even my most uninterested kin are interested. “What are those?”

And I just don’t know.

They look like ducks, but ride too low. They’re cormorant-like, but aren’t. Not Anhingas. Loons don’t congregate. I’m silent.

There are thirty of them, floating in tight formation, watched by Ring-billed Gulls. They have an upward tilt to their heads, grayish light and dark plumage.

I’m stumped.

Later, I check my field guide. Horned Grebe. This was a tricky identification for two reasons.

In winter, Horned Grebes change from bright colors to gray. Also in winter, they tend to flock. I didn’t know that.

This worked out okay. For a while there, I was becoming an authority figure, and didn’t much like the feeling.

I’d rather be a father figure. Fathers, as we know, don’t necessarily have all the answers.

5 Responses to “Stumped.”

  1. Melody says:

    I love bird watching at Disney, too. So many ‘exotic’ and interesting birds.

  2. Evelyn R. says:

    BTW, hope you had a good time at Disney despite the cold – though for you, it was probably warmer than being at home.
    It has been so cold here in Central Fl that Merritt Island has been telling ppl not to bother going there for birding. Everything has gone farther south till things warm up. Great for next month’s Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival!

  3. Gregory P. says:

    I have also noticed the flock behavior of Horned Grebes on waterways in East Texas during winter months, but the books I referred to for confirmation about this did not say it. What field guide do you have? This is a hard species to identify. It’s honest to say you just don’t know. Keep the good observations coming.

  4. Teri R. says:

    You had me at Naked Birding….

  5. H.E.S. says:

    I’ve been out of touch for awhile. I’ve missed your posts. They’re awesome. I love your take on the world.