Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Plum Island Birders Lose a Dear Friend
September 22, 2023
By Steve Grinley
Doug Chickering passed away, suddenly, at his Newbury home last Sunday. We have lost a long-time friend and extraordinary birder, whose smile, enthusiasm, and willingness to sharing birds and the birding experience was felt by all who knew him. He was truly the ambassador of Plum Island birding. His reports on Massbird, and in his book, Reflections of a Golden-winged Warbler, brought us descriptions not only of birds, but the whole experience and excitement of birding. I have shared so many of Doug’s stories with you in this column (he was a much better writer than I) and I always received such positive comments on his writing. Plum Island birding won’t be the same without him. We miss you already, dear friend.
An outpouring of remembrances for Doug has been flooding local social media including Massbird and the Plum Island and Essex County GroupMe sites. It is appropriate that I share some of these with you today:
Tom Wetmore of Newburyport, who birds the island everyday posted: “Doug and I had a passing acquaintance until April 2002, when Rick Heil found a Pacific Golden Plover along the S-curves. Over the couple hours spent with Rick working out the identity of that plover, Doug and I clicked and began our twenty plus year friendship.
“After Lois died Doug and I birded on the island, often together, nearly every day, and when I say nearly every day, it is no exaggeration. We never planned where or when we would meet, but every day we would get together somewhere on the island. We shared the same stories over and over and over again, and they never got old. And there are so many new Doug stories that could be told…
“His two hobbies were building ships in bottles and writing science fiction; he finished both a ship and a book recently. His occupation was machinist; he was in demand as a model maker for power plants; he made scale models of the plants, with all their piping and valves and power equipment; the models were then used to build the plants. He was credited for saving millions of dollars in one plant in western Pennsylvania by finding and fixing some impossible piping configurations in the original architects’ plans. The island is going to feel quite empty for awhile.”
Sam Miller of Acton wrote: “Very sad news. Glad he was birding, and I’m sure, laughing, on the day he died. Carla and I can’t recall ever a conversation with Doug in which he didn’t laugh. Great birder, great friend, great smile, great laugh. We’ll miss you and remember you, Doug.”
Cherrie Corey of Marlboro Vermont posted: “For so many years I’ve looked forward to Doug’s posts. He had the gift of relating his intimate communions with birds in a way that uplifted and inspired us all. His Plum Island post on 19 August 2023, “A few unforgettable moments among the tree swallows” was indeed transcendent, and perhaps prescient. May he be flying joyfully in their company now and always.”
Sandy Selesky of Westford, MA posted: “Such a shock! Doug was such a warm, friendly, and kind man and such an incredibly devoted birder! I check Ebird almost every day for Parker River since I go there often throughout the year and just noticed that Doug was there every day last week, some days 5-7 hours and EVEN yesterday morning for 45 minutes starting around 7 am as his usual daily arrival.
“Over the years I would especially get to see and talk to Doug about his sightings during the May migration, usually running into him on the Hellcat boardwalk or at the S Curves. I always looked forward to his thoughts about his special birding moments on Massbird. His writings were poetic and inspiring! I loved to hear about his excitement each year on days when he found himself surrounded by the thousands of tree swallows during their annual gathering at the Refuge in August since I feel the same emotion each time I witness this incredible event.
“I will miss seeing Doug walking alone or with fellow birding friends along the Refuge road and miss being able to wave or stop to talk to him whenever I saw him there. The Refuge was his 2nd home and he is hopefully still there soaring with his beloved birds.”
A celebration of Doug’s life will be held on Sunday, October 29,2023, 2:00pm at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, 1 Plum Island Turnpike in Newburyport. Come and share memories and light refreshments with our great birding community! All are welcome!