I wasn’t visiting the world’s largest Amish settlement so I could go birding. But my wife is an avid birder and so are many of the area’s Amish, so when word began to circulate that a “lark bunting” was at Henry Hershberger’s farm on Penrod Road in neighboring Tuscarawas County excitement began to build. What is so exciting about a lark bunting? Um…well, you’d have to ask a birder that. But from what I can gather this is a species of bunting that is usually not found east of Kansas. The lark bunting photo here is courtesy of Wikipedia. Occasionally a bird strays from its usual migratory course and ends up where it isn’t supposed to be. When such a bird decides to take up residence at the home of an Amish birder it won’t be long before the feathered flyer is recognized. Several years ago a wayward northern wheatear bird showed up on the farm of an Amish man outside Beeville, Texas who recognized it as being somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be. It wasn’t long before the Amish farm was descended upon by binocular-wielding birders with their guidebooks and cameras. Birding is quite popular among certain segments of the Amish so if a nomadic bird happens to land in the yard of someone who knows their feathers then it’ll spark a frenzy. Word will quickly spread from Amish to English landing on bird blogs which will suddenly chatter with excitement and posts about the itinerant bird. So many birders began showing up at Henry’s farm that he put a log-book out by one of his pastures so visitors could sign in.
When Rachel and I arrived at the rural stretch of road by the Hershberger farm there was no sign of a bird celebrity, just the lone logbook sitting on a fencepost. But after a few minutes of Rachel scanning pastures and treetops with her binocoulars a few cars materialized seemingly out of nowhere.
“Are you here looking for the bird?” one older gentleman said, jumping out of his car and scribbling his name in the log-book. As if we would have been parked on this middle-of-nowhere stretch of road for any other reason, but I gamely answered ”yes, have you seen it?”
“It’s up on the brush pile, just step over the fence – it’s not electrified – and walk up that hill and you’ll see it,” the man said getting in his car and heading away. I was left wondering where he had just come from, why he had scribbled in the book and then disappeared. The mysteries of birding!
So Rachel and I – along with another birder who had just shown up – trudged uphill and over a couple of fences before arriving at a breezy pasture not far from the Hershberger barn. The hilltop view offered amazing panoramas of the surrounding countryside punctuated with the occasionally soothing clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies out on the afternoon errands. Even if I didn’t see the bird, I was pleased with the peaceful view. After about 15 minutes of scanning brush piles and fence posts with binoculars and coming up empty, Henry Hershberger emerged from his barn and slowly trudged the football field’s length to the area where Rachel and I were standing. He was very gracious considering strangers had been tromping into his pasture for days now.
“Feel free to move a little closer, you won’t scare it away. It stays low to the ground so look there, you’ll see it, it was seen here not a half hour ago,” Henry explained.
Suddenly Rachel spots it.
“I think that’s it,” she exclaimed. And soon another birder who was there with his spotting scope and camera was trained on it. Mission was accomplished, it was another “life bird” for Rachel (the term birders use for birds they’ve never seen in the wild before). And as he walked down the hill and headed for the car, I captured this peaceful scene of a buggy slowly cruising down Penrod Road. It was a fun afternoon when my Amish research and Rachel’s love of birding converged quite nicely.