Sunday, November 10, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Brother Joel and I were happy to be invited as guests on the Brookline Bird Club’s November 2nd field trip for the ‘Dovekie migration,’ so named for the hope of seeing the smallest and cutest of alcids.

We joined the group at the Gloucester State Fish Pier. Joel delved into comparative hardware with some of the men. Local resident Daan Sandee astutely sighted a peregrine falcon astride the City Hall weather vane, at a distance of nearly half a mile. “Would you like to see its picture?” offered Joel, turning his 800mm Canon to the skyline. I believe his camera exceeded the optical acuity even of the fabled raptor.

Peregrine falcon on City Hall, from State Fish Pier
For all of us on the Pier it was the season’s first glimpse of this aristocrat perched above the halls of government. Several years ago I photographed the falcon roosting there for its panoramic view of municipal pigeons.
Peregrine falcon on Gloucester City Hall
We traveled on to Halibut Point State Park. Trip leader Bill Drummond of North Andover recommends the months November to March for ‘good’ birds driven to our southern shores by frigid or blustery air. Today’s balmy weather is a disappointment for alcids but Walter Bockus of Rowley expects something good to come of it, with Bill at the helm. “He’s seen every bird in North America. I was the northernmost person on the Continent one day because of him. I went out on the Point Barrow ice cap. There was no one further north..”

Trip leader Bill Drummond
In the warm weather lull Walter is reflective. “If you have the right companions in the group, even a bad day is a good day. Birding gives you something to do while you’re out there, adventure, a quest, maybe fanatical at times, but you had a great day. You get more life in your step.”

I asked several people, “What is your fondest dream today?” Noel Mann, who lives not far away, calibrates her calendar with special arrivals. “The Harlequins are probably here. They’re great fun to photograph. They’re fun to watch.”

I was happy to respond that one of my readers reported seeing nine Harlequin ducks at Halibut Point this week. The postings are giving me currency, in two senses of the word!

Up ahead the vanguard knots and chatters, binoculars up. Bill queries, exhorts, arbitrates. “What were you getting? Hermit thrush. Oh, good. Oh, wow. Okay, they have a hermit thrush.” “There it goes. Two hermit thrushes.” “That’s good.” “I’m not sure that’s a hermit.” “It looks like one.” “It didn’t have a red tail.” “Let’s keep watching, keep watching, keep watching.” “He’s down in there.” “There’s one up there!” “There are two, there are two.” “That’s it. keep watching.” “That’s the one, with the dark spotting.” “I count at least four….”

Bill appreciates the team effort that improves the chance of success, then opts for solitary quiet beside a pond. “I want to take a look here for awhile in case some warbler shows up. The thrush has been our only migrant. This would be a good spot to find a bird, especially where there’s a little water down there. We’ve had the yellow-rumped warbler. I’m hoping to get an orange-crowned.”

At the ocean overlook there’s little to see but languid gulls. Someone with a scope points uncertainly at a speck on the water, calling Bill for confirmation. “Long-tailed Duck,” he said unhesitatingly.” Used to be called the Old Squaw. The ladies objected.”

Walter Bockus puts his duck call to service. “When I’m in an area and I see somebody I know, to get their attention, I ‘quack.’ My wife and I used to get separated in crowds so I would go ‘quack, quack, quack.’ Well she would duck her head and everybody else would look, but she knew it was me and she would come in that direction. I’ve done that with a lot of my friends and acquaintances, like when Barbara showed up today, she goes ‘quack, quack.’ She remembers that. People remember you by your duck call. The first time it happened was unfortunate. The pros were playing golf someplace in the central part of the state and we went to watch them play. We were around the clubhouse and there was a big mob and she got separated and I spotted her and I went ‘quack, quack, quack.’ Unbeknownst to me a guy was getting ready to tee off. Well they’re all looking around and I just went ‘Whoops,’ and walked away. But she knew who it was. I always remembered that. The pro turned around. I don’t know if he was in the middle of his swing or not but he said ‘Who in the heck is quacking here?’...I don’t know what eccentric means. I think it’s fun. I’d say most everybody I know I have ‘quacked’ once or more. They know that that’s me.  I’ve been in a mall and I’ll ‘quack, quack, quack,’ and everybody looks around.  My friend will say, ‘I know who it is,’ and everybody else says, ‘What the heck is that?’ and they keep on going, but my friend will say, ‘Hey, I see you!’ - especially if I forgot their name.’

Brookline Bird Club members at Halibut Point
The Brookline Bird Club is celebrating its 100th  Anniversary this year. Barbara Drummond sums up the common tone: “I couldn’t stay in on a day like this, you know? I enjoy the whole experience of birding. I’m not really a Lister. I just enjoy looking at the birds and hearing them and being in the area. It’s a compulsion to identify birds. A compulsion. I’ve had that all my life. But I enjoy watching their behavior. Everybody has their interests. Now I can’t identify them because my eyes are so bad. Somebody else has to identify it, and I’ll go look at it. You know what I like? I like to be surrounded by life. That’s my thing. I like to be in a place that’s different, and things are moving around, just being alive.”

1 comment:

  1. Quack quack quack. Smile. I like this guy. ... But my friend will say "hey, I see you, especially if I forgot his name." That's hilarious.

    When Becky and I were dating in college she was in a biology class where she was tested on her knowledge of bird calls. She took to coming to my dorm window and calling to me with the sound of the tufted tit mouse: Petr petr petr. That stayed a thing with us for a long time. Maybe we should bring that back.