Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bird-a-thon, Saturday

The varied geography of Halibut Point presents an ideal starting place for Bird-a-thon's Big Day. The suffused light at dawn is all Chris Leahy needs to take stock  of the diversity of birds between shore and horizon.

Halibut Point, dawn
Seasonal adjustments are still in progress. Bird-a-thon contestants want to find winter stragglers as well as summer vanguards. Waterfowl are moving up the coast. Migrating land birds reaching the Ipswich Bay cluster nervously before crossing miles of open ocean.

Blue jays contemplating an ocean crossing
Spotted sandpipers and laughing gulls sit within my sight range. Chris reports on scoters, loons and gannets further out to sea. Without glancing up he notes a bobolink overhead. Towhees call around us. They're nesting reliably in our coastal heathlands despite declining numbers elsewhere.

Black-and-white warbler
When Chris's friend Elizabeth Heide joins us the birding conversations becomes richer and more probing. We amble up a road into the woods. Another pair of trained eyes and ears helps identify warblers in the treetops. For my benefit they call into view a least flycatcher with a combination of pishing imitations and screech owl alerts. They're amused that I forgo the aid of binoculars. I'm amused (sometimes) with tantalizing subjects for my camera.

Great crested flycatcher
As a matter of routine they 'get' a great crested flycatcher when it calls from a distant perch. I try to distinguish it from a red-bellied woodpecker, which perplexes Chris. "I never thought of them being similar, but you're right, they are. Hmm. The flycatcher is more musical. The trill of it is a little more distinct, whereas the woodpecker runs his together. It's also a different sound. Great cresteds always strike me as if they're shouting. Wheet. Wheet.  Something's going on. The woodpecker's more like, Hey. Yeah. I know that makes no sense at all." I'm all ears.

Chris and Elizabeth at Seaside Cemetery
We leave Halibut Point for open habitat with intermittent trees - a graveyard. We find satisfying additions to the day's bird  list. The inhabitants understand the serenity of a May morning.

Black-crowned night heron
A black-crowned night heron presides at the adjacent pond.

Red-necked grebe among common eiders
Chris has a knack for picking the unusual out of the usual.  At Gloucester Harbor he spots a red-necked grebe among the eiders. It's a bird not often seen here at this time of year, in breeding plumage.

Elizabeth produces the brown creeper call on her Smartphone
At Ravenswood Park we supplement the tally with birds of another habitat. The cognoscenti point out a northern water thrush but can't manage to draw it out of the brush for a photograph. Chris thinks he hears a brown creeper but hesitates on ascertaining it for the list until Elizabeth confirms the vocalization 'on line.'

We move on to an overlook at Poles Hill alongside the Annisquam River. The terrain produces updrafts for soaring birds, hawks, turkey vultures and gulls. It's one more niche of Cape Ann ecology and its adaptable bird world.
Common yellowthroat
Two of the warbler species we've encountered stay with us all summer, the common yellowthroat and the yellow warbler. Their familiarity does not diminish the marvel of a close portrait.
Yellow warbler
Chris says, "I love making lists, not because I think I'm accomplishing anything, necessarily, although today if we see 150 species that would be cool in that sport, competitive kind of way. I guess it's part of the curiosity ritual - something like that....
"There's no boundary between the nature and the art. The two things go together for me. If I can combine an artistic element with a natural history element, that's as good as it gets."

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