Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Retirement Provides Freedom to Watch Birds
April 16, 2011
by Steve Grinley

     First, a reminder that hummingbirds and orioles are on our doorstep. It seems early, but the first hummingbirds have been reported elsewhere in Massachusetts, and I had a local report of 2 orioles a couple of weeks ago. More local reports should be coming in soon. Though most hummingbirds and orioles will arrive in May, you may want to think about putting out at least one nectar feeder for the hummingbirds, and maybe one for the orioles, along with some oranges and grape jelly, to catch some early arrivals.

     On a different note, I envy the folks that can spend each day, every day, watching these and all the other beautiful birds that pass our way. Friend and fellow birder, Doug Chickering of Groveland retired three years ago and became one of those people. I would like to share again his tale of “freedom” with you, as Doug told it three years ago:

     “It seems so long ago. Yet it was only last week that I was still following the mad ritual of going to work. It was only a handful of days ago that I was spending my days in a large windowless, loud machine shop, chatting, and laughing and breaking bread with the same people – more or less – who I had been spending most of my days with for the last thirteen years. They were my associates, my colleagues and my friends. And yet there was always something that separated us. Our work, our experience and our thoughts were bent upon the same goal and there was general level of understanding that made for genuine camaraderie.

     “We were close but not close – had so much in common but so little in common. When I started to talk about birds and the passion of birding, a silent barrier crept in between us. They would smile, inquire tolerantly and even show some interest. Yet they regarded this as an eccentricity and I was now a stranger; probably harmless, but peculiar, and perhaps a little crazy. I reveled in it.

     “Now that has all changed, and now I can get on with what is important. This morning, as the sun was rising, I was on Plum Island; as I was yesterday morning, and as I will be countless mornings in front of me. Lois and I drove upon the refuge in the chill of the early morning just as the birds were becoming active and anticipating the string of small adventures and discoveries that we knew lay ahead. We were not disappointed.

     “There is something special about birding in the chill of April; before the crescendo of the waves of migration come. Something stirring, something quiet; serene. The winter is over. The sun warms the day and the last birds of the long winter mingle with the first edge of the migration. There were a lot of birds, but not a large variety.

     “Down the length of the road from the gate to Stage Island we encountered Flickers in ones and twos; mostly heading north, but with a cluster of about ten in the fields by the Old Pines. Also we found numerous Song Sparrows and Junco’s and Robins, flying up from the roadside, or scattered across the fields. There were Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets in even numbers at Hellcat; and Hermit Thrushes everywhere. I am amused and fascinated by the way the Hermit Thrushes leap from hiding, dart a few feet into the thickets and find a prominent branch to stop motionless to regard you with wide and innocent eyes. A peculiar mixture of boldness and timidity.

     “Yesterday I had great looks at a Pine Warbler, that dropped down from a tree to forage almost literally at my feet; brightly colored and seemingly fearless. Today, Lois and I heard and saw our first Towhee, and at the Wardens we witnessed a brutal no holds bared barroom brawl between two Mockingbirds. Wings flailing and talons grasping they grappled and rolled in the dirt while a third Mocker looked on. Usually it seems as if an aggressive avian encounter quickly turns into a chase; but not this one. I do not know what the quarrel was about but they were both serious about it.

     “My new life has arrived, my old life vanished, almost without a trace – and it seems so long ago.”

     Enjoy your new life, Doug!

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! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply