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More bird ball

10/21/04 12:00AM By Ted Levin
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(Host) Recently Ted Levin combined two of his favorite pastimes and did a little bird watching - at Busch Stadium.


(Levin) The drive from Thetford to St. Louis covers 1,152 miles of interstate highway.

The trip obliquely cuts across two flyways, major migratory routes that birds follow to and from the breeding grounds. You begin the trip on the Atlantic Flyway, but by eastern Indiana you enter the Mississippi Flyway, a funnel-shaped route that stretches more than two thousand miles between James Bay and the arctic coast of Alaska, before merging over Missouri. Then, the birds more or
less follow the Mississippi River to the Gulf Coast and beyond. On a map, the Mississippi Flyway looks like a wine glass.

I've come to St. Louis to watch a weekend series between the Cardinals and the Dodgers and to record the birds I see from Busch Stadium, which stares up at the Mississippi Flyway like an unblinking green eye.

Will we see a real cardinal? Unlikely, unless someone hangs a birdfeeder from the dugout.

September 3, 5:05 p.m. The sky is mottled and washed-out like an overexposed photograph. The temperature is warm, 83 degrees, and the air bears the weight of the river humidity, thick and sticky.

In short order, I record pigeons, starlings, mourning doves, and chimney swifts, which appear high over the river, trolling for insects.

Bottom of the second. Two outs. Jim Edmonds on third. Reggie Sanders doubles to left. Edmonds scores, while I record my fifth and final species of the day, common nighthawk, drawn to the midges and mayflies, which are in turn drawn to the lights.

Top of the third. Pitcher Jose Lima lines a single to center - the first hit for the Dodgers - then rushes to first base like a turkey taking wing.

Top of the sixth. Matt Morris strikes out the side, including Lima, who now looks less like a turkey, more like a penguin as he swings and misses.

I end the night with five species of birds and Matt Morris ends the night with a complete game, two-hit shutout.

September 4, 6:34 p.m. It's in the mid 80s, cloudless. Immediately: pigeons, starlings, mourning doves, chimney swifts.

Top of the first. Lead off batter, Cesar Izturis, the Dodger shortstop, works the count full. A flock of 110 white pelicans appear beyond center field, high above the river as Izturis takes a called third strike. The pelicans are as white as fresh baseballs, with ink black wing-tips, luminous in the evening light. Species number five.

Top of the sixth. Cards lead 2 to 0. A mallard zips over the playing field, fast ball-like. Species number six.

Bottom of the sixth. The nighthawks arrive. Number seven.

I leave Busch Stadium Sunday afternoon with one new ballpark bird - white pelican - and a combined total of eight species of birds, six less than my single-game National League record at Shea Stadium in June 1990. I also leave with a question: Since the eastern bluebird is the state bird of Missouri why did the team pick the cardinal as its mascot?

This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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