Friday, January 29, 2010


Knoxville area radio personality Dave Foulk recently went on Facebook seeking to identify a waterfowl he had seen. The request reminded me of an incident that happened to me back in 1987.

When Cheryl and I bought a house in Powell in 1986, near I-75 and Emory Road, it was still a rural area. On the northeast side, at the foot of the small mountain where we moved in, there is a man-made pond where ducks often gather.

One afternoon Cheryl came in from work and asked, “What kind of bird stands in the water on one leg? Whatever it is, I just saw it in the pond at the bottom of the hill.” I told her I didn’t know because I hadn’t been around waterfowl very much.

At the time, I was running a beat in the area where I lived for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office so I made a point of driving by the pond when I had time. I never saw the big bird that stood on one leg, but Cheryl saw it often.

After a while, whenever Cheryl mentioned the big bird, I would respond with, “Did the bird say anything to you?” It became a running joke I enjoyed more than she did. It might have remained that way had I not stretched out on a lawn chair on my back deck one afternoon.

I was about half asleep when I first heard the loud flapping noise approaching from above. Looking up, I saw a creature that in my semi-waking state, I first irrationally took to be a pterodactyl bearing down on me.

Of course, I had never seen a pterodactyl -- except in artist renderings -- the species having been extinct for millions of years, but I had never seen the creature flying above me either. It had a long neck and pointed head, long legs trailing behind and a wingspan that looked like a small aircraft from where I was.

After the creature had passed, I realized it was a bird. In fact, it was the bird Cheryl had seen standing on one leg in the pond. A little research told me it was a Great Blue Heron, taking off from the bottom of the ridge and struggling to gain altitude as it passed over me.

I had seen pictures of the Great Blue Heron from a distance, but I had never looked up at one close-up as it passed over my head. That evening, I told Cheryl I had identified her bird, but I left out the part about mistaking it for a pterodactyl.