Friday, June 6, 2014

Common, But Seldom Seen

It's one thing to know a bird is there and another to get a good look at it. For visual appreciation you need clear sight lines, which some birds are explicitly reluctant to grant. Trying to obtain a clear view, such as across a pond,  gives the bird an open look at your stealthy moves and the chance to disappear. If you have to approach through the brush you might as well be crunching bubble wrap en route.
Green Heron

On a lucky day in the spring I got this photo of a green heron beside one of a network of small quarries. It whetted my hope for further sightings, maybe even a rookery, but no luck until last week when we surprised each other at his fishing post on a pond near the tip of Halibut Point. He dashed into the woods and flew off a bit later with a companion (the missus?), in the direction of the first quarry, silhouetted like a pair of short-tailed crows against the sky. 

The next morning I tiptoed back to the pond at dawn thinking to be ahead of the herons. It seemed a more reasonable plan than spending the night. Unfortunately my portable hunting blind malfunctioned. Any possibility of staying invisible was lost, but I lingered quietly for a while in Little Eden.
Almost subliminally I became aware of a soft hooting sound which gained volume as a mysterious creature drew closer in the brush behind the pond. I never got a look at it. Later, in a rather comical email exchange with a birding expert at Mass Audubon, I tried to describe the sound. Once I got him the right combination he zeroed in on the black-billed cuckoo. I went to the Cornell Ornithology website to hear a recording of that very sound from the bush, along with this assessment: "Common but secretive, the Black-billed Cuckoo is heard far more often than seen." 

Now I had a double incentive to infiltrate that charmed terrain for photographic trophies. Early the next morning I threaded down a 'game trail' to the rear side of the quarry and set up station beneath an oak tree. The solitude nurtured reflections on strategy, and on obsession. 

Obsession? How else do you stretch experience? I was mobilized, yes. I wanted those photographs, but not necessarily at all costs. Hmmm. I could admit to being fairly far to the right on the interest - passion - obsession spectrum. Those words slide into one another. 
It's not a zero-sum game. I don't see any losers. Time outdoors with a quest makes for winners. Of course you will be tested. I, for instance, am learning to accept that the trees have to have their leaves even though they interfere with bird watching. But couldn't science give us a mini-laser to snip out an annoying branch or two?

Something moved off to the left of my lair. This little fellow peered back at me from within the canopy, then flitted to a spot that revealed a bit more of its identity to my Mass Audubon consultant: female common yellowthroat.  I have a new acquaintance.

The last couple of outings to Halibut Point I've heard the cuckoo again, sotto voce and alluring beyond the catbrier tangles. Oh, what a coup that photo would be!  Let's see...cut a a tree a recording to bring him closer...

Black-billed Cuckoo
Christopher L. Wood photo
Courtesy of Cornell Ornithology Lab
Years ago on a field trip a novelty came into view. My companion remarked, "Well, I guess that's a life bird for you." I replied, "No, it's just the first time I've seen it." Remembering that perspective helps keep my obsessions in check.

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