I played golf 4 times at Lake Norman last week. Two days were stifling hot and two days were glorious. I hit a few good shots and I hit lots of bad ones. My family reunion team ended up losing to “Darth” Mathera (my brother-in-law) and his gang by 5 strokes, but the next day, I beat Darth by one stroke in a head-to-head match at Trump National, so good sometimes overcomes evil.
But while I was playing, and sitting in a golf cart waiting my turn, I had the opportunity to observe lots of birds – most of them in the act of catching bugs.
Mockingbirds were all over the courses and they are amazing bug catchers. Mockingbirds often hop in the grass and then spread their wings or raise their tails, which sometimes causes an insect to move. Then it’s gone. Mockingbird food. I also saw a mockingbird nail a big moth in mid-air. That takes amazing agility.
There were also lots of robins out and about. They are also fun to watch. The robins take a few hops, cock their heads to the side, then pounce. They are nor listening for insects, but rather looking for movements by cocking their heads. Rarely would they hop more than two or three times before finding a bug. Just for the heck of it, I got down on one knee and peered into the grass and if you do, you can see lots of critters – ants, beetles, and potential bird meals. Robins like worms, of course, but there are none available in this hot weather. Most of the robins I saw would fly off after catching a bug to trees, where their young are still in the nests.
Bluebirds are also a common sight on a golf course. In the last 20 years or so, many golf courses have built bluebird houses at the 150 yard marker to the green. This helps golfers know the distance to the pin and it’s a huge help to bluebirds who have lost natural nesting areas to invasive species such as starlings. Today, most golf courses teem with bluebirds.
One of the most amazing bird watching incidents I have ever been involved with happened on a golf course in Charlotte, probably 50 years ago. I was playing with my uncle, Jim Lawrence, and we were preparing to tee off when I saw a hen quail thrashing about as if she had a broken wing. I knew it was a favorite distraction tactic of quail as they lead predators away from vulnerable baby chicks, and sure enough, I then saw about a dozen little fluffs of brown feathers scurry across the tee box then take cover in the first high cut of grass. I knew exactly where they went, so I got down on hands and knees for a better look. But I couldn’t find even one. They were there somewhere, but were so well camouflaged I couldn’t see a single chick.
Finally Uncle Jim said, “Are you going to play golf or look for birds?”
I then left the tiny quail to the care of their mother and shanked a perfectly good golf ball into a lake. Sometimes it’s more fun to watch birds than it is to play golf.