Who doesn’t love a Chicken Inferno, an opportunity for beloved friends and family to come together in the spirit of good cheer to build a giant chicken out of wood and hay, stuff it chock full of fireworks, and burn it? Not me! Regular readers know that the Core Team celebrates the third weekend of July with a good old fashioned chicken burning out in Potter County, PA, a rural paradise known far and wide as God’s Country. You also know that I always come back with accounts of Inferno avifauna.
Summer is so short in this part of the country that the flora and fauna enter into a frenzy of activity once June begins. Everywhere one looks, insects are buzzing, birds are flying, and a hundred different species of plant are straining to capture every last ray of sunshine before the season ends. This is a good time of year for perennial residents like sparrows (Song, House, American Tree) and finches (Purple, House, and American Gold.) Common Grackles are all mobbed up, as are starlings, waxwings, and pigeons. Wild Turkeys also traveled in ungainly groups while the robins seemed more interested in solitary pursuits. Yes, all the usual suspects were there, but amidst the expected Mourning Doves and Blue Jays, the catbirds, chickadees, and cardinals, mingled Eastern transients like Kingbird, Phoebe, and Bluebird, along with summer specialists like the adaptable Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
We observed the anticipated raptors: American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture, and Red-tailed Hawk, the last usually being harassed by crows and songbirds. A pleasant surprise was the realization that among the abundant Chimney Swifts and Barn and Tree Swallows swooped many Cliff Swallows, the first we’ve ever knowingly seen. I’m sure they’ve been here every year, but we’re finally skilled enough to pick them out. I even found a cliff swallow nest, but when I returned a day later to capture a photo, it had collapsed, presumably from its weight. The oppressive, highly irregular heat gripping that normally cool part of the country might have also had something to do with it.
Though our avian observation skills are appreciably improved since last year, my inability to identify birds by voice ensures that many species go regrettably uncounted. Though I spotted Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-rumped Warbler, other warblers and orioles got away. An azure beauty that was either an Indigo Bunting or a Blue Grosbeak also escaped final determination. But I can’t complain. I didn’t miss swell species like Acadian Flycatcher or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and every year brings more birds still.
The mighty Chicken adorned for pyrotechnic excitement
What of the Chicken itself? The guest of honor, Gallus gigantus domesticus, was a creature of rare, rustic beauty. We went with an upright design this year, devising a frame of massive aged barn timbers to support an awesome payload of combustible material. Our experiments with fused fireworks and chambered architecture bore the fruit of a pyrotechnic display to match any of our previous efforts. This gargantuan galliform, itself over 20 feet tall, burned high and hot, sustaining a ferocious, towering plume of flame for hours. In fact, it was still burning come morning. That, my friends, is what it means to be built to burn!