As I’ve mentioned before, one of the advantages of being a birder is that you can use your knowledge and observational skills to add an inappropriate element of dorkiness to nearly any social occasion. I mean, I pointed out birds to my senior prom date during our romantic pre-dance stroll along the Buffalo waterfront. I’ve pointed out birds to co-workers of The Inimitable Todd that I barely know. Hell, I’ve pointed out birds to people at the World Fantasy Convention, an event where it’s hard to conceive of a level of dorkiness that could be considered inappropriate.

So when the IT and I joined a group outing to the Belmont Stakes this weekend, I immediately began pointing out the Barn Swallows. They were very scenic and appropriate, cutting neatly through the air, flashing navy backs and golden bellies. The IT appreciated them with me, but everyone else was more interested in the vodka-spiked Orangina that someone brought (it was very interesting.)

The track itself – which we were fortunate enough to have good views of with spots right up against the fence just past the final turn – featured a number of House Sparrows squabbling in the dirt, enacting their classic ecological minuet with horses, horse droppings, and the insects that are attracted to horse droppings. A single Mockingbird perched on the inside rail and tried a few bars of song. A pair of Red-winged Blackbirds joined the House Sparrows at their racetrack buffet and even venture quite close to the audience for bits of abandoned corn muffin and hot dog bun. My friend Tom retreated to the clubhouse to get out of the sun and came back with a photograph of a print of an archaic chicken for me, so clearly my dorkiness was rubbing off. Eventually, a Canada Goose flew over. All that was missing was a Red-tailed Hawk or two to provide an instructive overview of the types of birds that thrive in a pastoral, human-dominated landscape.

Eventually, also, I decided to take a flutter on the ponies (as the kids would say, if the kids were Damon Runyon). Looking over the racing form, I decided to rely on an old family system that has produced good results for years, a highly secret and complicated formula based on years of livestock experience that… yes, ok. In my family, we pick the horse with the name we like best.

Chocolate Candy seemed promising, as did Mr. Hot Stuff, but in the end I had to go with Summer Bird.

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