Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Reflections of Birding in 2008
January 3, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     As 2008 comes to an end, it is good to reflect on the past year and to look ahead to another year. Doug Chickering of Groveland reflects on this past year of birding:

     “Our birding today, the last day of the year, was restricted to our feeders; for reasons that are only too obvious. We had Siskins, of course. Three of them mixed in with the Goldfinches. We also had a pair of Carolina Wrens. There is nothing to brighten a wintry day more than the glow and febrile activity of a Carolina Wren. Yet the most unusual bird of the day was the forlorn immature Chipping Sparrow to feed tentatively among the rough jostling of House Sparrows.

     “Being the last day Lois and I will sit down and go over our year list, checking the birds off one by one. It is an accounting exercise to make sure we haven’t missed anything. More importantly to gives us the opportunity to remember and to a degree relive the events and birds of the past year. It is a review the highlights of the year 2008. It is a mystery how the mind and memory works. Of course the Life Birds and the write-ins on the list are memorable, but quite often these aren’t the most trenchant images that dominate the memories of the year past.

     “The most prominent moments of the past year that shift to the front of my memories are:

     “A dark mysterious raptor on a log in the salt marshes; probably a Rough-legged Hawk, but with elements to its presence that don’t fit that form and then suddenly it bursts into flight to reveal a Gyrfalcon; heavy and quick. We watched it entranced for three quarters of an hour.

     “A Cape May Warbler feeding in the spruce tree illuminated by a warm October sun. Suddenly it takes flight, lands for a few breathtaking moments on Lois’ shoulder; inches away from our faces. It pauses, tilts its head and in a flick it’s gone.

     “Standing on the dike one September Day looking over a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers and White-rumped Sandpipers. Lois suggests I scan them with my scope and unexpectedly my scope falls in upon a peep, not a semipal, not a White-rumped. Elongated with the primaries extending beyond the tail, like a White-rumped, but with a soft brown head and chest, and a glint of gold on the back. Close up on a Baird’s Sandpiper. Baird’s sandpiper being unusual this year, as were the Stilt Sandpiper.

     “The Say’s Phoebe popping up on a sprig of Goldenrod in the dunes at dawn. I had been waiting for it since an hour before dawn; when the sky was just lightening up. Iwas searching for it and expected it but still it was a surprise.

     “A Fork-tailed Flycatcher looking particularly exotic at the edge of a slightly grimy pond in the middle of Brighton. What curious set of events and decisions would bring this bird to this incongruous place?

     “Eating lunch on a May afternoon and seeing a small bird in the shadows of the Juniper bush and slowly bringing my binoculars into focus. Olive back, and yellow bellow, the body unmarked by wingbars or streaks and a plain blue hood that fell to black at the bottom.

     “A Mourning Warbler in the yard. A few hops and it was under the Juniper, out of sight and gone.

     “And of course a Scarlet Tanager and a Blackburnian Warbler. Always. Every year a Scarlet Tanager and a Blackburnian Warbler. My life would be diminished if I didn’t get good looks at these two sometime during the year.

     “These images are at the top of my 2008 list even though the memories extend much farther. I am sure that all have a similar band of memories to scan and cherish this last night of the year.

     “A final note on the end of an era. Since 1996 it has been one of the first birds to be written in on my Massachusetts Checklist; the first rarity. I have seen no reports of a sighting this year and although I cannot be certain it does seem as if the era of the Eared Grebe of Gloucester Harbor is over. For over a decade this unlikely visitor could be seen in the inner harbor, usually near a large white mooring ball. I knew this day would eventually come

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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