Taking The Slow Road

Immature white ibis (Eudocimus albus) taking in the sights at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

During the past week, as I puttered and poked along the back roads of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, I found myself pondering the travel habits of the ibis.

Though graceful in flight, ibis seem equally willing to indulge in the pleasures of ground travel. As they wander along roads and through fields — sometimes foraging, sometimes not — it’s easy to imagine them out for a stroll, or indulging in some avian version of follow-the-leader.

  Mature white ibis seem to prefer nursing home lawns and yacht clubs

Their steady but unhurried gait, their willingness to pause when something piques their interest, and their apparent curiosity about the world around them could make them models for travelers of every sort.

White-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi) stop at a local ditch for a little refreshment

When circumstances demand a little Point-A-to-Point-B flying, ibis can take to the skies in a flash. But if it’s a lazy afternoon, with nothing on the agenda and no demands to be met, they seem happy to take the slow road. I’m glad for the reminder that we can do the same.

Comments always are welcome.


40 thoughts on “Taking The Slow Road

  1. Yes, taking the slow road can be very good for us too. Sure does a lot for stress. I bet those big birds could do some serious hiking, too!

    1. I have this sudden image of them trailing along behind you, saying, “This is tougher terrain than Texas!” It is amazing how much territory they can cover. I get to watch them at my work from time to time. There’s a lot of green space there, and they often cruise around probing for whatever lives beneath the grass. But sometimes I swear they’re just enjoying the scenery, especially since no one bothers them.

  2. Great photos of the ibis. Seeing the dark ones and the white ones is a pleasant treat for the eyes. Indeed these birds provide an inspirational message for humans. Slow down and enjoy the scenery. Life is short and quite tedious at times. So savor the scenery and take a relaxing stroll. Hope you are able to do the same on your trip.

    1. Sometimes, the ibis species will mix, especially down at the wildlife refuge. They seem to get along just fine: not only with each other, but also with the various egrets, and it’s especially fun to see them when the young ones are in various stages of changing color.

      They’re quite good at just standing around, too, which makes them great subjects for photos. I still don’t do so well with moving targets.

  3. Oh this is lovely. I think I like the first shot best, although they are all nice. I wonder if the white ones also like golf courses? Although, perhaps these days they tend to have more traffic, rather than walkers.
    When I watch tourists driving too quickly along the roads, I think they could take heed of the ibis, and learn from them. Happy travels :-)

    1. That’s an interesting question about the golf courses. I pass one on a fairly regular basis, but only have seen yellow-crowned night herons there: never an ibis. Perhaps all the work that goes toward keeping those courses in good condition for golfers also leaves them bare of the food sources ibis enjoy.

      I wasn’t able to linger quite as long as I wanted in some areas last week, but there’s nothing wrong with a scouting trip. I made a couple of discoveries that will warrant more exploration in the future.

  4. Great photos of the Ibis – I always love to see them around, although they’re a little more rare in my immediate wetlands area.

      1. I saw many Australian Ibis going through the compost rubbish heap at the Collingwood Children’s Farm when I lived on that side of the city. Fascinating to watch. There were Peacocks, Ibis & other birds (which I can’t remember at the moment).

  5. I get a kick out of these guys, especially after a heavy rain or when the lawn service is mowing – they follow the mowers like puppy dogs waiting to locate that special treat!!

    1. I’ve not seen ibis do that here, but it makes perfect sense. The cattle egrets and grackles are the ones who most often follow our mowers — and they certainly know how to maximize their opportunity.

  6. These are great shots, a slo-mo parade, and creatures possess curiosity always appeal to me. But for some reason, the idea of these big-beaked characters promenading along, scrutinizing the nursing home lawns (Fall in, you lot, time for Inspection, what what, where’s my swagger stick. What is this? Perchance a stray croquet ball??) seems very comical to me.

    1. Seeing them on that lawn amused me, too. I live right across the place, and had the opportunity to watch the parade for nearly a week. I’m never sure what causes them to choose “this” place rather than “that,” but they clearly have their standards.

      The funniest group I ever saw was perched around a circular concrete table with concrete benches in a marina — about ten of them, two or three to a bench. I wondered why none perched on the table itself, but a friend offered the simplest explanation. Their mothers had taught them manners, and they knew not to put their feet on the table.

  7. I still remember the day, after weeks of rain, that a flock of white ibises decided my yard was the wetlands they wanted to harvest… It was an unusual occurrence. One that has never been repeated. But also one that has stuck in my mind for years.

    Great captures. Glad to see you back home.

    1. When you see a group of these birds, they are impressive. I don’t wonder that you remember them. I can’t think of anything more fun than a coffee muse with these dudes crossing the lawn.

      I’m glad to be home. I can’t even complain about the heat, because it was just as hot and humid in the midwest. I laughed and laughed when I got to the Ouachitas. Last time it was foggy, but this time it was hazy: bright blue sky above, and not a bit of a view from the ridge. So it goes. Obviously, I’m going to have to test the theory that it’s the third time that’s the charm.

  8. I suspect too many of us (and I’m just as guilty as the next person!) are so fixated on getting to our destination that we fail to enjoy the journey. Probably comes after having to travel with siblings as a child!

    1. Sometimes a little destination-fixation’s in order, particularly when a schedule’s involved. On the other hand, the world doesn’t fall apart if a brief stop here or there takes place. It’s that “brief” that can be the problem. If I’d allowed my curiosity full reign on this trip, I’d still be in the mountains!

  9. There is a lot to be said for taking the slower road, much more to see. Just loved these pics, especially the juvenile ibis, I haven’t seen them before.xxx

    1. You’ve certainly enjoyed that slow road in the recent past. Your trips down those rivers come to mind — there’s not much that’s slower than that, or (as I imagine) more enjoyable.

      When I first saw the juvenile ibis, I had no idea what they were. I’d assume they came from the egg as tiny versions of the adults. Not so — brown, or brown and white, help to camouflage the little darlings in a way that pure white feathers wouldn’t. Not only that, it’s great fun watching the changes take place. It was only last year I saw a juvenile great blue heron, and saw that it goes through similar changes.

  10. Lots of the Ibis in Australia. I like their habits of following dairy cows around the paddocks. I daren’t contemplate what they are hoping to find but my imagination tells me it is perhaps something a bit unsavoury inside the cow-pats.
    That is nature.

    1. It’s entirely possible they find some of our treats unsavory, too. On the other hand, some of the nicknames I found for the Australian variety suggest they’re not too picky about their diet.

      Here, it’s the cattle egrets who follow our cows, sometimes riding on their backs. They help to rid the cattle of irritating insects, which is another great example of something that’s mutually beneficial for both creatures. The first word that came to mind was symbiosis, but I see that mutualism sometimes is used to describe the behavior. In any event, there may be some of that going on with your ibis, too.

    1. Exactly so. On the other hand, in the spirit of “Never say never,” if ibid ever is needed again in my writing, it’s going to show up in endnotes rather than footnotes.

    1. I happened across four ibis foraging in a shallow backwater this week, and had to laugh at the way they looked. They were probing so deeply that almost half of their beaks were covered with mud when they pulled them out of the water. It was quite a sight.

      When I looked at the maps that Cornell provides, I was surprised to see that their range doesn’t even include northern Louisiana or Texas. They’re strictly coastal, and a real treasure for those of us who live here.

  11. Sometimes we have no choice but to take the slow road. As long as you’re stuck in the slow lane, you may as well make lemonade and take in the scenery. I’ve always thought of Ibis as the giraffes of the avian world — tall, languid, graceful and unhurried — and really laid back flyers — the way they s-curve their necks to accommodate their beaks in flight always makes me smile.

    1. I had to laugh at your comment about being in the slow lane. On Sunday, in a fit of stupidity remarkable even for me, I decided that we should make the trip on the Bolivar ferry that my visiting cousin was inclined toward. There’s nothing quite like a ninety-minute wait in a ferry line to test patience. Our reward was seeing plenty of dolphin on the way across, but still: a little lemonade and better scenery would have been nice.

      Some day I’d like to see scarlet ibis in flight. The only ones I’ve seen were at Moody Gardens, but online photos suggest how spectacular such a sight would be.

  12. P.S. In ancient Egypt, the god Thoth manifested as ibis headed. Among other things, he was the god of scribes and writing. He is often depicted with a reed pen in his hand and papyrus. Ibises were, for that reason, sacred to the god Thoth. It always seemed to me that ibises (and cats) comport themselves as though they remember they were gods once.

    1. That’s an interesting observation about cats and ibises. You’re right that both species can have that certain air about them, as though they know a secret that we don’t — and they’re not telling.

    1. What I didn’t appreciate until recently is that the ruts, potholes, scattered carcassses, and unmarked lanes on some roads force us to slow down. Those bumps in the road — metaphorical or otherwise — can be an aggravation, but they also can be a blessing.

      On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to keep the meandering to the slow road. There’s a sheriff’s deputy in Missouri who may still be telling the story of the flower-obsessed woman he mistook for either a texter or an old lady having a heart attack. No ticket was issued, but I did get a grin, and a suggestion that waiting until I got to the prairie to look at the pretty flowers might be a good idea.

  13. I love seeing these in groups. You did a great job. It must not have been easy, however. I remember just shooting one and having a hard time keeping up with the framing on the camera. They can change positions quickly. They look so elegant like this.

    1. One thing that helped with each of these photos is the fact that the groups of birds were larger than shown here. There were a few out of focus birds on either side of each group, which allowed me to select the best cluster and crop out the rest. Also, they really were marching “in step,” which meant there wasn’t quite so much erratic behavior. That helped considerably.

      They are elegant birds — and not particularly shy of humans. Whether in the refuges or the neighborhoods, they seem more approachable than other species.

  14. Oh Linda, this is so beautiful! I’ve never seen ibis before but they are so graceful looking and the photos are terrific. I loved your comment above about cropping out the blurry birds. It’s hard to hit a moving target! Terrific photos all!

    1. Hitting a moving target’s one thing, but hitting a whole group of targets is another. There were over thirty birds in the group of white ibis — amazing, really. I suspect some people could have gotten them all in focus, but that’s still beyond me.

      Ibis are graceful, and great fun to watch. What’s especially fun is to find them together with egrets, who will follow the ibis to snatch away tidbits that the ibis has stirred up while feeding. Apparently they use their bills much like the spoonbill, swishing and probing to find all the goodies buried in the mud!

  15. Taking the slow road – “festina lente”, as the old Romans used to say – is certainly something we need to remeber in our (way too) fast moving world.

    1. I’d say you’re doing a good job of it. I’ve not had a chance to read your railtrails posts yet, but I can’t think of a better way to combine a nice pace and covering some territory. I have a hilarious story about “moving slow” that I may or may not put in the blog, but if I don’t, I’ll send an email to you and Mary.

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