While visiting my sister at her ranch in Burton, Texas, I had a very special encounter with a clatter of storks. I was visiting her for a twice yearly antique event being held in Round Top, Texas. Every April and October, thousands of vendors from all over the United States set up shop along Highway 237 to hawk (pun intended!) their wares to thousands of shoppers who are seeking special treasures. It is hard to imagine the scope of this event for it encompasses many miles and must be seen to be believed. But trust me…anything and everything can be found here. Think the best ever garage sale in your entire life multiplied one hundred thousand times plus antiques thrown in the mix. We already had two full days of canvasing most of our favorite sites and were in her kitchen just enjoying a lazy Sunday morning with a steaming cup of coffee. I was in my robe and not really focused on birding at that particular moment. My attention was drawn to the kitchen windows by some huge birds flying in to settle on a stock pond in the pasture behind their house. They were big! So big that I instinctively knew this was a special moment. I jumped up and grabbed the binoculars that were on the window sill and at first thought they must be Whooping Cranes. I flew to the door and started walking barefoot very slowly towards the pond which was approximately a football field distance away. No shoes but thankfully my brother-in-laws pastures are pristine and free of burrs and weeds. In my flapping robe, I am sure this “swoop of storks” probably viewed me as some giant bird flapping in the pasture. So here I was barefoot in my robe stalking some very large birds and trying to get close enough to memorize identifying marks and to observe their behavior. Many times the behavior of a bird can help you in the identification process. But I digress.
These huge birds were wading on the edge of the stock pond with their beaks half submerged slowly opening and closing them. They had predominantly white bodies , a sliver of black along their wing edges and tail and their heads were dark grey, scaly looking and featherless. The bills were thick, long and curved downward. And did I mention they were HUGE!!!!! Wood Storks have the nickname of “Old Flinthead”, “Ironhead” and Preacherbird because of their featherless heads and tendency to stand around contemplating their environment after eating. And indeed when you look at them their heads look very prehistoric.
Another moment in my life that I was kicking myself since in my excitement I did not being a camera with me. So once again, I began the process of burning the image into my memory. I was able to get within 50 yards of them and I spent the next 30 minutes or so leaning against the post on a barbed wire fence just absorbing the sheer magic and beauty of that moment. It was a gift to watch them slowly move through the pond water seeking food and refreshment on their migratory journey. When they finally took off to resume their trip, I savored the beauty of their powerful wings lifting them upward into the sky. They were magnificent and I was blessed to have witnessed them up close and personal.