A Fictional Piece by Neil Gilbert

Charles foraged among the leaf litter of a forest in the Wintering Habitat.  He overturned a wrinkled leaf and snapped up a beetle that had been cowering in its shade.  Not satisfied, he continued searching with his tail raised and head bobbing.  It was early March and the Instinct was pulling him north to the Breeding Grounds.  Over the next few days, he gorged himself on small insects.  Fat bulged in the fercular hollow in his breast and along his flanks.  He hoped it would be enough to cross the Vast Water. One evening, the pull of the Instinct became stronger than ever.  He fluttered up into the darkness, his internal compass guiding him in the correct direction, and within half an hour he was above the Vast Water. His four-and-a-half inch wings carried him steadily through the darkness. Charles flew all night. As morning dawned, Charles couldn’t see land in any direction. He kept flying all day.


As the light faded, the wind strengthened.  It was a light headwind, but Charles kept up his steady pace.  When morning dawned again, land was in sight.  However, the headwind strengthened, and Charles was slowed down considerably.  The sky darkened; light rain began to fall.  Soon large raindrops began to pelt Charles’ back and wings mercilessly.  Lightning flashed and thunder roared, but Charles pressed on, his bill ever pointed north.  Charles’ fat reserves were nearly gone and dwindling fast. He was a small scrap of fluff and feathers tossed wildly by the winds of a violent storm.  At last, he passed over the beach, but there was no place for him to rest.  He wearily continued flying until he found a small patch of woods on a small rise in the middle of extensive marshes.  He crashed to earth, exhausted, and immediately began foraging.  A spider sheltering from the rain on the underside of a branch made a small snack, and Charles began to regain energy.


High Island, Texas, attracts birders from all around the country in the early spring.  It rises out of the wide marshes and rice fields of the Texas Coast, the only area with trees for miles.  Normally, migrants leave the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, fly across the Gulf of Mexico, and pass over High Island without stopping because it is such a small patch of habitat. However, when a cold front comes through, it severely slows the migrants. If they are lucky, they reach High Island and begin refueling.  Occasionally, a cold front will cause thousands of birds to descend upon High Island.  These occurrences are called “fallouts”, and make a birder’s heart beat wildly.  Unfortunately, many migrants are unable to reach High Island and perish.  After a very strong cold front, it is not unusual to find hundreds of warbler carcasses washed up on the beach.


The Instinct’s pull was faint on Charles over the next several days, so he sojourned at High Island.  It was not a pleasant stay.  Several Enemies prowled through the woods. Hawks picked off weary songbirds.  Charles scolded a snake as it swallowed a kinglet that was too exhausted to flee.  Most conspicuous were large two-legged creatures that crashed through the woods haphazardly, bellowing constantly.  They appeared to be harmless, but Charles avoided them anyway.  Competition over food was intense among the migrating birds.  One day, Charles thought of the Breeding Grounds and the Instinct suddenly became overwhelmingly strong. That evening, Charles flew up into the night sky, guided by his internal compass and the stars, and headed due north. Over the next couple weeks, he would fly most of the night and then spend the day foraging in whatever habitat he could find.  One night, bright lights appeared on the horizon. Hypnotized, he flew straight for them.  As he drew near to the lights, he abruptly collided with a solid surface and tumbled to the ground, unconscious.


To Be Continued Tommorrow…