Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Good Timing Results in Good Birds
February 15, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     We haven’t heard from Doug Chickering lately, so I decided to dig up an old story which he shared with us before in 2007. He and Lois saw some fine birds on that February day seven years ago:

     “Of course there are really no bad birding days. Yet we have all experienced those days when we just can’t come upon any luck at all. You arrive seconds after the bird has flown, and then leave minutes before it reappears. You take a chance on parking and get a ticket, you find that you’ve got the wrong eyeglasses on, etc. I’ve even left the house and been on the road a half hour before discovering that I forgot my binoculars. There are no bad days but there are those days when you just are snake bit. And then there are those days on the other side. The days when everything goes right.

     “Today (Sunday, Feb. 4) was just one of those days for Lois Cooper and me. It got off to a slow start when we couldn’t get our morning into gear and didn’t get out of the house until after 9. But then on things went right. We pulled down Locust Street in Cambridge and the Townsend’s warbler was sitting in the tree just above the fence. When I first got on it, it was facing me. Then, during the time we watched, it turned one way, then another. It gave a few flicks of the wings and generally displayed itself magnificently. Lois and I were enraptured. It was clearly one of those birds that pictures and field marks can’t do justice to: beautiful beyond our powers of description and more beautiful than its most artful representations. 

     “No waiting, no hassles, just an extraordinary, beautiful bird out in the open. We didn’t even feel the chill of the winter morning. Now that’s the way to add to one’s state list.

     “Sensing that our luck was in, Lois and I then decided to try for the chat reported at Halibut Point. We expected nothing. It was quite likely the same chat that we had missed at Halibut Point last November. The area is awash in thickets and chats are wicked skulkers, so we felt our chances were slight. We arrived around noon, went to the head of the trail and although we had a minor piece of excitement when a Carolina wren responded by diving past us and into the brush on the right-hand side of the trail, there was no sign of the chat.

     “We walked toward the quarry for a few yards and then when the thickets thinned out, headed back. I had taken only a few steps when I saw a small bird dart across the path from right to left. We moved up and out into the sun and then I caught some movement in the thicket nearby. Olive-green back, bright yellow throat. The chat. 

     “It was so close that my old Zeiss’ couldn’t focus, and I had step to the far edge of the trail before I could bring it in. It didn’t dive away, or skulk, but simply sat there and regarded us as we watched it in full appreciation. Every time I can get a prolonged look at a chat I become unalterably convinced; there is no yellow as brilliant, deep and breathtaking anywhere in this universe as that at the center of the throat of a yellow-breasted chat. Some may approach it but none surpass.

     “After the chat we couldn’t lose. We hadn’t seen a screech owl in one of our favorite trees at Locust Hill Cemetery in years. This morning there it was; perched at the edge of the hole; red phased, soaking in the sun, all puffed out and eyes slit in deep contentment. We hadn’t gotten surf scoter yet this year, so we went to our reliable spot on Penzance Road. Not many ducks there today, but a stunning pair of surf scoter nice and near. It was just one of those days. Maybe I should play the lottery today.”

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