Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birding Highlights of This Past Year
January 04, 2020
By Steve Grinley
The New Year brings with it reflections of the year just past. Doug Chickering of Newburyport shares some of his special birding moments of 2019 with us:
“I read my year list and reflect upon the highlights that stand out from the general pleasure of being out there with nature around me. It is impossible to judge them or put them in any order of best or second best. They stand alone as bright moments in the year and I appreciate and take joy in all of them, more or less equally. There are some that are indelible in my memory.
“A Cape May Warbler in a bush at the side of the road. There was something in me that suddenly burst open as watched it; so close so fantastically beautiful. It fed leisurely and pretty much out in the open. I watched it with my binoculars still hanging from my neck. A moment that seemed transcendent at the time, so stunningly beautiful that I thought I would weep.
“The two or three days in S Curves at Plum Island: looking up into the orderly cluster of Sassafras trees. For some magic reason those two days that is where the Warblers congregated and fed openly in the sun. From the most common of their kind like Yellows and Magnolia’s and Black-throated Greens to those we would have been grateful to see one any other year. Cape May’s and Bay-breasteds gleaning the foliage in impressive numbers. I cannot recall a spring when I have seen so many Cape Mays and Bay-breasted Warblers.
“There was the Lawrence’s Warbler at the trail crossing at hellcat. I had been watching it for a while and right after it plunged into the brush, I was joined by Bob Secatore who was looking for this bird and feared he had missed it. We waited a few minutes when I caught movement out of the corner my and then quietly motioned to Bob to look down. There at the edge of the road less than five feet from us was the Lawrence’s. A stroke of fortune that seemed to be the theme for that spring.
“In late August I had occasion to be on the Hellcat dike at dusk. I had come down, principally to listen for the Whip-poor-wills. The sun slipped below the horizon; the sky at the horizon glowed a brilliant scarlet and I looked up with my binoculars into the darkening sky and into a mass of Tree swallows. Gathering for their roost they filled the sky in a dense cluster of flying birds.
“I couldn’t see them without my binoculars. I t was like magic when they suddenly appeared through my glasses. I watched as they went to roost. The inescapable impression that came over me was that there were tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of birds up there and when they finally went to roost it was in thick clusters of birds that either simply dropped like water from a faucet, or swirled in tornado-like funnels down into the cat-tails. I t probably happens like this every year and why I have missed it until this year I have no answer. I will not miss that show again.
“The Tree Swallows had virtually slipped into view through my binoculars. Another bird did the same the end of November. I was walking on the boardwalk at Hellcat; heading towards the Tom Wetmore bench when the chattering of Chickadee’s caught my attention. It was intense and widespread and I immediately knew this wasn’t their idle chatter. They were onto something; probably scolding an Owl.
“I looked towards the source of the scolding, into dense, if leafless underbrush and trees but, at first, could see nothing. Then I spotted a couple of Chickadees, jumping excitedly from branch to branch and scanned the area with my binoculars and still could see only the tangle of the trees and brush. The Chickadees calmed down and eventually moved off to my frustration. I knew they had been on something that I wanted to see.
“So, one last time I set my binoculars straight in and scanned. Then like magic the bins slid over onto a Long-eared Owl, filling the eyepiece and looking at me with ears erect. It clearly could see me as well as I could see it but seemed quite unconcerned and even once closed its eyes. I managed to get a few of my friends on it before leaving the owl in peace.
“These are just some of several sharp memories I have of the year past. Every year brings these wonders that fill my heart with joy and wonder. The music never stops.”