The birds don't go unremarked in D.C.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To be honest, when I wrote last week about the taxi driver who said he'd seen a kiwi - the flightless bird native to New Zealand - crossing 15th Street NW, I was not entertaining the possibility that he had actually seen one. I thought he was hallucinating, and I was ready to hurl myself out the door if he'd said: "Do you see it? There! A howler monkey riding a Cape buffalo!"

But so many readers contacted me about the mystery bird that I must entertain the possibility that the cabbie did see an unusual bird and, not being native to these shores himself, just didn't know what it was.

Chevy Chase's Jim Boughton said he and his wife, Lesley Simmons, thought the small, brown, long-beaked, duck-size bird could have been a Virginia rail. "I recall that one was spotted near the African art museum on the Mall a few years ago," Jim wrote.

Rob Fleming of Washington nominated the black-crowned night heron. Rob said there used to be a colony at the National Zoo, although, he acknowledged, "They look more like kookaburras than kiwis."

Arthur Rypinski of Rockville was among readers who nominated another species for the mystery bird: the American woodcock. "These birds have brown plumage, are roughly the size of a big pigeon, have a long, bizarre, spoonbill, and sometimes appear on D.C. streets," Arthur wrote. "I've seen two out-of-place woodcocks in downtown D.C. over the years: one resting on mulch under a sidewalk tree near the Navy Yard, and another resting on a terrace at the Department of Energy, off Independence Avenue." Robin Woods of Alexandria said a woodcock came by her place, too. "The bird appeared on my patio after a spring storm that came up from the south," she wrote. (I like the idea of a woodcock visiting a robin.)

What all this means is that if you are a bird hoping to go incognito in Washington, forget it. There are too many birders who will be on to you.

Thar she blows

I don't think very many people recognize a rake anymore. I still have one, and as I used it last week I tried to judge how it compares with the machine that has made it obsolete: the leaf blower. I admit my findings are unscientific, based solely on a guesstimate of how long it takes the landscaping crews who do my neighbors' lawns. Of course, there's one of me, and there are usually several of them. But I tried to divide our respective toil into discrete man hours. I decided that a single man utilizing a rake is no slower than a single man utilizing a leaf blower.

After all, a rake is pretty efficient. There's a beauty in its simplicity. And with a rake, you never see what you often see with a blower: a guy standing over a single recalcitrant leaf, blasting it with air to shift a few feet. (When I see this I want to say: "Wanna borrow my rake?")

What raking is, however, is tiring. After a couple of hours of hard raking, I can barely lift my arms above my head. It's good training for snow-shoveling, though.

A gift opportunity

What do you get the person who has everything? No, not a leaf blower. How about a donation to Children's National Medical Center? If you have a relative, co-worker, teacher or other acquaintance who doesn't really need another bottle of perfume, fifth of scotch or naughty golf club cover, why not make a donation to our annual campaign in his or her name and allow me to write a letter to your giftee? It's a nice way of saying that you care about that person - and about helping sick kids. Include that person's name and address with your check or money order (payable to "Children's Hospital") and mail them to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md., 21297-1390.

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