Went out to the river, but to tell you the truth…I thought it would be too high. Just a couple of days earlier, the Ohio River was once again over its normal banks. Every year is different and this year the tail end of our winter was marked by warmth and high water. Although the riverbank was muddy, I was happy to be able to walk around. I’m having a show at a friend’s place in May and I was on the lookout for more washed up materials. As it played out, this first official day of Spring would be a more memorable one than I had first anticipated.
One of the reasons that this can be an interesting time of the year at the Falls of the Ohio is the annual Spring migration of neotropical birds. I have been known to set my collecting bag aside and just hit the woods on the look out for migrating birds. The first time you see a male Scarlet Tanager or a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will make a bird watcher out of a lot of people. This past weekend, which is still a bit early for the usual migrants…I came across something totally unexpected that I couldn’t identify at first. I didn’t get many pictures, but what I have is here. If you have never seen (or much less heard of) Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf, (Aviana indeterminus)…you wouldn’t be alone. Hammerkopf translated into English is hammerhead and that description seems to fit. Heisenberg’s bird is about the size of an American Robin. Among the features that stand out the most are its massive red bill and the petal-like feathers found at the base of its neck. The wings can be brown or white and it has been known to have a crest, but some individuals have been seen that don’t have this feature. There is no consensus as to its overall population, but a few individuals seem to make the news each year. This bird is an enigma and it seems to prefer things that way.
The individual I came across is a second year male. Looking at the info there is on this species did say that the unusual ruff of feathers around its neck could turn bright red as the bird matured and was ready for the breeding season. What little there is in the scientific literature suggests that this is a highly variable species that can be found anywhere at any time. With this bird, you really can’t pin down where it originates and it doesn’t seem to have a “normal range”. It seems to be a very uncommon bird with a world-wide distribution.
This individual kept surprising me. I almost felt that it “changed” the more I observed it. By that I mean at first I found it by the mud and then it changed habitat by going into the trees. I lost track of it for a short while, but rediscovered it at the water’s edge. From there, it moved back under the willow trees where I eventually lost it for good. I saw it use its large bill to delicately probe the mud and hammer through a driftwood log and in both cases wasn’t sure of what it was eating if indeed it found anything to begin with? I just saw enough of this bird to pique my interest, but I have had bird sightings that have lasted mere seconds that were satisfying enough to last a lifetime.
While I was out exploring the Falls environment, I did come across another individual who can vouch for me that this strange bird was indeed out here. I struck up a conversation with him and as it turns out he is also an artist. His name is Chiel Kuijl and he is from the Netherlands. He has a residency at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky where he is working on a unique outdoor rope environment. He was looking for select, interesting pieces of wood that he could incorporate into his art project and the Falls of the Ohio are a perfect place to do this. Talking with Chiel, one of the things he is enjoying most are the new and unfamiliar birds he is encountering in this country. I asked if he had ever seen a Heisenberg’s Hammerkopf before and he said that he hadn’t and it was really unlike what he was accustomed to back home. I am sure I will see Chiel again, but what of the hammerkopf?
I don’t often make an appeal to the larger blogging world, but if anyone should happen to see this bird or something similar to it…I hope that you will post pictures of it. It might make an interesting research project to see where in the world this species will turn up and what it might have to say about those particular places where it is found. For now, I will leave it here and hope you will follow along the next time I am hiking at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.