Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pitcairn Park, Part 2 - Halibut Point, 1958

A one-per-decade series of glimpses, 1860-1960

During much of the 1950s, '60s and '70s what is now Halibut Point State Park was owned by the Richard Webster family of Brookline, who vacationed in Lanesville and became enchanted with the former quarry property that had fallen into decrepitude. I reminisced with Mrs. Cleo Webster and her daughters Kate and Heather about their experiences. Heather, who was born after the days of Pitcairn, sorted through the family slide collection to provide these photographs.
Part Two - an interview with Kate Webster, first segment
Welcome to Pitcairn Park
When I was about three years old, about 1954, my father bought the first piece of Halibut Point, which included the road into it. That year we stayed in a little Airstream trailer, the next in a cottage at the western edge of the property. It was down a little lane beside a tiny quarry. Later on it burned down.

The big quarry
He and my mother loved nature. Before he became a surgeon, as a youth, he wanted to be an entomologist. I grew up with his interest in insect life and other wildlife. His curiosity was insatiable.

Dr. Richard Webster
He and my mother were among the first people to buy aqualungs when Jacques Cousteau developed them. They were very interested in the ocean and sea life. When we were kids we weren't allowed to watch TV except The World We Live In on Sunday nights. Mum loved to draw and paint.
Clouds, drawing by Cleo Webster
He cleared acres of brambles. He had his own little backhoe. He would push down all the stuff and we were like farm girls. We'd be behind him with the picks and shovels and pitchforks, uprooting all that stuff. My sisters and I each had our own crowbar.

In the station wagon, headed to Halibut Point

What a monumental job! We did change the landscape some, but mostly it was in the way of clearing ledges, to make them more visible, especially in the area between the quarry and Gaffield Avenue.
Cleared ledges
Most of the briers have grown back, but you'll see some odd-ball things.

Ornamental rose 2014, in woods near where cottage existed
Martin Ray photo
We planted the entire area where the parking lot is with spruce and pine trees, some of which we grew from seed in Brookline. He may have intended it as a nursery from which to transplant trees elsewhere on the property. He built the boundary wall to the Trustees of Reservations land out of grout debris on hand, and planted a great many things there, maybe in an attempt to beautify it for opening it to the public.

Boundary wall
I was immersed in it, despite hating the chores that went on day after day after day, all summer. I learned so much about the incredible little things going on in the world around us - earwigs, cocoons, butterflies - an ant moving its eggs from one place to another - tadpoles coming from eggs. The joy is in the looking and seeing what's happening. 

Kate exploring
It was a great place for little girls. Oh, it was enchanting. A lovely magical area full of birds and flowers, and all kinds of creatures. My father taking us on nature walks was extremely inspirational to all of us.

Four Sisters by Cleo Webster

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pitcairn Park, Part 1 - Halibut Point, 1958

A one-per-decade series of glimpses, 1860-1960

During much of the 1950s, '60s and '70s what is now Halibut Point State Park was owned by the Richard Webster family of Brookline, who vacationed in Lanesville and became enchanted with the former quarry property that had fallen into decrepitude. I reminisced with Mrs. Cleo Webster and her daughters Kate and Heather about their experiences. Heather, who was born after the days of Pitcairn, sorted through the family slide collection to provide these photographs.
Part One - an interview with Cleo Webster
Welcome to Pitcairn Park
The name Pitcairn referred to the quarry pit and the rock pile, or cairn. When we first opened it up we had nature trails. Everybody was enlisted, all the kids. The first thing we did when we bought it was to clean up the trash. It was everywhere. The children and I had a wagon. We'd fill it with old bottles and clothing. The children used to sing a song, "We have a tow truck, to carry toes in."
 The cairn
My husband Richard had many, many interests. Anything he went into he went into completely, and was very good at. He had a backhoe, and loved using it.

The backhoe
Richard cut trails and tunnels through the brambles, like Peter Rabbit would use. We made a road going around the quarry, and eventually down to the shoreline.  On the lower flat area we used to go down to have our lunch. We called it Down Below.

A working lunch
We moved a huge flat rock to serve as a table. We rebuilt a fallen-down wall between us and the Trustees of Reservations and cultivated a garden along that wall. We didn't have much time to play. My husband cracked the whip.
Stone table
We used a car jack and levers to make an observation promontory on the edge of the quarry.
Quarry swimming
For a small fee you could fish and swim. When the Air Force was still there one of the men acted as life guard. Then the tower came up for sale, in closed bidding. We were on edge until our bid was accepted.

Native kids would jump off the cliff yelling "Geronimo." It was a long drop.

Building toilet facilities
We built Ladies' and Men's rooms and a leaching field along Bay View Road. They were vandalized early on. We were only able to go back and forth on weekends, and seldom in the wintertime. We employed a local watchman but broke that off, not on the best of terms.
Dr. Richard Webster stocking the quarry with trout
Divers told us the rainbow trout the State had put in were all gone by the next spring. But they said there were still some big brown trout down deep in the water. The State had poisoned the eels and existing fish before putting in the trout. They told us we could shoot a seagull and float it on a plank to keep other seagulls away while the trout were little.

Divers also told us there was a locomotive at the bottom of the quarry.

My husband loved nature, and worked very hard. We didn't want to let it go, but there were rumors around Town about our development plans, and the State took it by eminent domain.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Snow Birds

The snowstorms that have recently disrupted so many of our intentions inspires me to break into the current Series of Glimpses with a look out the window.
* * *
There's nothing like affordable philanthropy to warm our better natures, especially when the donation goes fully and directly to needy neighbors.

I enjoy the tender virtue of sustaining birds at my feeder through a tough winter. But I also admit to enticing them to close range for the pleasure of their company.

White-throated sparrow
Each of these visitors becomes an animated work of art. It enlivens the frigid theater while I watch in comfort with toast and jam. Oddly enough the birds are not too careful at the feeder. They scatter some sunflower seeds to scavengers on the snow below. I don't suspect charity in their motives, any more than mine.
Mourning dove
One of the beneficiaries, a dove, paces into view as demurely as on a summer lawn. Its unprotected feet confound me. Light reflected up from the snow gives fair illumination to its subtle gray-brown spectrum.

Nearby a goldfinch keeps his feet tucked in to at least keep the wind off them while he busies himself with a seed.

A sudden gust breaks through the insulation of a towhee that has lingered unusually in our latitude for the winter. I allow myself to think these morsels will sustain him through his recklessness.

English sparrow
His benefactor overhead, a seed-scatterer, has a bad reputation for swarming bird feeders, over-consuming and dominating the perch. Appreciating English sparrows takes a certain detachment to put them in the right light.

Similarly, in the frosty moment, a starling appears like a sequined marvel of flight. I easily overlook the garrulous gangster habits it exhibits in flocks at other seasons.

Birdwatchers tend to categorize in terms of the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Good is associated with daintiness, liveliness, colorfulness, and rarity. The titmouse qualifies well on the first two qualities. But is there any bird not beautiful?

Blue jay
All the dainty ones scatter when a blue jay careens in with his brassy ways, his baleful eye and personality. What's your pleasure in blue? This sport has them all.

Song sparrow
One of nature's sweetest singers strikes an endearing pose on a single foot, the other tucked into a downy recess. The song sparrow's array of brown and white streaks seem as perfectly pretty as any bird, when you have the benefit of a zoom lens for detailed appreciation.
The Christmas Card Cliché bird can't help his stunning feathers in the winter landscape. He's well-mannered and incandescent, if illogical - a rarity in my youth and here are eight of them in the yard, pushing north.

For a fellow his size the cardinal is fairly tolerant of small fry on the margins of the feeder. The chickadee is in and out before the big guy forms a prejudice. The cardinal munches placidly, bovine-like. The chickadee is all agility, taking a single seed to a nearby branch to chip it open with his bill.

I can't walk by the window without a glance in their direction, a glance that often leads to lingering and absorption in the gathered birds. It's a kind of refreshment in entertainments beyond my design, in perkiness beyond my comfort zone.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Griscom Day, PM - Birding Halibut Point, 1941

A one-per-decade series of glimpses, 1860-1960
William Ludlow, Griscom's maternal grandfather (right)
kneeling beside George Armstrong Custer,
Black Hills expedition July 18741
Raised at a nice address in New York City, Ludlow Griscom pursued birds in Central Park with his parents' opera glasses. Because of extended family trips to Europe he did not attend regular schools but became gifted linguistically. They hoped he would settle on a career in law or at least in the concert hall at the piano, but he pioneered at Cornell University to earn its first master's degree in ornithology.
Ornithology Department of the American Museum of Natural History, 1924
Ludlow Griscom seated at left, Frank M. Chapman center1
Griscom eventually played key roles in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Boston Museum of Science, and the National Audubon Society. As international tensions heightened in the 1930s he was recruited to lead a secret team of translators at Harvard who scanned foreign journals for government intelligence.
Griscom with spotting scope, early 1940s2
The Cape Ann peninsula, projecting eastward into the ocean, intersects migration flyways and may be the first continental edge encountered by seabirds driven in by northeast storms.  The northern tip of Cape Ann offers legendary opportunities for bird watching in foul weather. It merits a stop especially on winter days.

We now rejoin Ludlow Griscom (LG), Roland Clement (RC), and Bill Drury (BD) at Halibut Point on the afternoon of December 7, 1941.

LG  Down on the rocks, two o'clock. See them? That's the only calidrid you'll see in Essex County at this time of year. Now you might have expected sandpipers on the sands of Plum Island. But these frequent rocky shores.

Purple sandpiper, Calidris maritima3
BD  Got it. There they go.

Purple sandpipers on the wing3
LG  The short greenish yellow legs and bicolor bill are unmistakable, but location is key. In flight distinguish it from the winter dunlin's mousier affect and its slimmer decurved bill, near tidal flats.

Purple sandpipers in surf3
BD  Look how they stand up to the waves!

LG   It's only a ten-cent bird, but the grittiest of the lovely. 
RC   That white speck out there beyond the green buoy, oldsquaw? I can't quite make it out. 
LG   Take another look. 
BD  Aren't you going to use your glasses. 

LG   Don't need to. Look at the length of the tail feathers. Cepphus grylle.  

RC   Ah, I should have recognized it as an alcid. Black guillemot in winter-white.

Black guillemot, Cepphus grylle3
LG   Who hears the music? 
RC   Sounds like puppies. It must be coming from behind that ledge. Are you on it, Bill? I bet it's harlequins, the holy grail of Halibut Point.
Harlequin ducks, Histrionicus histrionicus3
BD  Oh, yeah. Come on over. The light is perfect. Look at those colors. 
RC   Right in the breaking surf. Amazing. Popping up like corks. 
LG   Their unusually smooth, dense feathers trap air effectively for extra insulation and buoyancy. Histrionicus histrionicus. The name derives from the Latin word histrio, 'actor.' Same root as 'histrionics,' right? The bird calls to mind the brightly dressed harlequin performers of the Renaissance Commedia dell’arte. 
        Let's take a peek at Andrews Point while we still have some light. It's just around the corner, but we'll drive over there. Why don't you fellows circle around the quarry on the way up, check for winter finches. I'll meet you at the car. 
*  *  *
LG   Gentlemen, the radio has some astonishing news. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and our Pacific fleet is destroyed! We'll have to get right back to town. I have to get my linguists together.
Photo credits:
1     William Davis, Dean of the Birdwatchers: A Biography of Ludlow Griscom, 1994
2     Edwin Way Teale, "Ludlow Griscom: Virtuoso of Field Identification," Audubon Magazine # 47, 1945
3     Martin Ray 
Sources, in addition to those given in Part 1:
John Baker (President of the National Audubon Society), "Ludlow Griscom - The Man," Audubon Magazine #61, 1959.
Richard S. Heil, "Seabirds of Andrew's Point, Rockport, Massachusetts," Bird Observer, Vol. 29, No. 5, 2001