Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Birders Enjoy Not-So-Secretive Chat
January 28, 2012
By Steve Grinley
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about last year’s quest for birds and remarked that the year was starting anew. Doug Chickering of Groveland writes about his early January quests in search of special birds:
“Like many other birders, Lois Cooper and I devoted much of these first days of January, gathering in the treasures of the last year before weather and circumstance swept them away. We got great looks at the Barnacle Goose, the Townsends Warbler and the Cassin’s Kingbird. There was no telling when these vagrants would suddenly vanish not to be seen again; perhaps for years, if ever. We wanted them for 2012 so they were our first targets. We also put in an effort to see the Canvasback and Northern Shrike at Cherry Hill, as well as the Redheads and Snowy Owl at Plum Island. Not rarities but birds that can prove difficult or elusive. We were successful here as well.
“Of course the winter has a long way to go, and there are still plenty of birds we have yet to see. We still haven’t caught up with Glaucous Gull, or King Eider, or Kittiwake or even Snow Bunting. There is always one more bird to find. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This morning, harboring no expectations, Lois and I took a leisurely drive down Plum Island. In the S curves we saw our first definite “bird sign”; a black Prius pulled over to the side of the road. I pulled up beside the car to see Oakes Spaulding and Herman D’Entremont. More “bird sign”. I quickly looked around, saw nothing and moved slowly by them. When I glanced in my mirror they appeared to be looking up into a tree by the side of the road. I pulled over and got out. As I did a bird hopped out of the brush and into the grasses between us. I was aware that this was the exact spot where I had observed a Yellow-breasted Chat last December. There was a flash of yellow and even before I could get my binoculars focused I knew that it was indeed a Chat.
“”Lois.” I said softly. “Get out of the car.” She could tell by my tone that something was up, and that something had to do with a bird. She stepped out and the bird foraged and we settled in upon it. In December I had a great, maybe 45 second look at the bird before it darted back under cover. At the time I thought this to be a superior look; at least for a Chat. This time the bird just hopped around in the open; occasionally downing a red berry it found, completely ignoring our presence, and actually making its way towards us.
“At one point a pick-up truck drove by. The Chat ignored it as it was ignoring us. We watched, transfixed, murmuring our appreciation as this uncommonly cooperative bird gave us looks I haven’t had this millennium. It stayed out there for five or six minutes before flying across the road. The four of us exchanged excited commentary at such a luxurious sighting and then I picked it up again, back on our side of the road, in the underbrush, in front of my car and slowly making its way towards the Tick Farm gate. What is more likely? Two Chat’s seen in the same exact spot, or one Chat seen weeks apart and not seen in the interval?
“Lois and I planned to try to get the Chat reported from Loblolly Cove and from Straightsmouth Lane [on Cape Ann]. Of course when we go to Cape Ann we’ll take a look at both places, but it seems unlikely that we will be afforded a better look than today. Still you can’t see too many Chats.
“Every time I go out birding I encounter something that makes the trip worthwhile. This is one of the reasons that, at least for me, birding has never lost its luster. Sometimes it is the bright beauty of a spectacularly marked bird; sometimes it’s the witnessing of some stark drama, and sometimes it is the discovery of a long lost vagrant. Sometimes it is common birds in an unexpected overwhelming situation – like today.”
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