Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Local Bird Club Turns 100
September 22, 2012
By Steve Grinley

     The Brookline Bird Club was founded in 1913 in Brookline, Massachusetts and has grown to over 1100 members from all over Massachusetts and beyond. The club schedules multiple free field trips every week of the year, many to Newburyport and other areas of Essex County. The Brookline Bird Club will be a hundred years old this coming year and it plans a year-long celebration beginning in January.

     A history of the BBC is being written as part of the celebration. I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts and memories of the club that I sent to those working on its history:

     I began birding in May of 1962, but my first BBC trip wasn’t until May 16, 1964. I had made a note that my first common loon was seen “flying over long line of cars on trip led by Warren Harrington’s [Newburyport & vicinity trip, May 16, 1964]. My first BBC trip.” I remember that so many of the trips back then, in the 60’s, were so well attended. I can remember long lines of cars at Newburyport and, especially, winding through the narrow streets of Rockport and Gloucester in the winter. We didn’t have hand radios or cell phones back then, and I can remember at one time having flags that were placed on the antennae of cars to help id which cars were in our group.

     I travelled with Herman d’Entremont a fellow Newtonian and who probably introduced me to the BBC. We were joined by Bob Symeist and the late Charlie Parker, both of Cambridge and together we would join the all day trips. The line of cars were always so long that we would “jocky for position” to try to be the first or second car behind the leader. First, we didn’t want to miss a bird that might be seen by the lead car and, second, we didn’t want lose the group. There was one woman, whose real name I don’t recall, whom we dubbed “Mrs. Nudge-in” as she was always aggressively adept at being the car right behind the leader.

     In between all day trips with Herman, I would join one of the many half day trips around the Boston area, especially those that I could reach by public transportation. Belmont Hill, Mount Auburn of course, Arnold Arboretum, Horn Pond in Woburn or Fresh Pond in Cambridge. I could sometimes get rides to Great Meadows and the Sudbury area trips. These half day trips had their own set of “regulars.” Whether it was the half day or all day trips, I always had more experienced birders to learn from, and I learned a lot in a shorter period of time than had I birded alone.

     I began leading BBC trips just a couple of years later, at the ripe old age of 16. I have postcards that were typed and, sometimes, hand written by Jerry Soucy, asking me to lead certain trips. He was the field trip coordinator and Blue Book editor back then. His perfect, cursive writing was admired by all with whom he corresponded. A 1966 postcard he sent has a 4 cent stamp on it!

     The most memorable trips I attended were the weekend journeys. Every Memorial Day we would go to Martha’s Vineyard, every June we camped at Mount Greylock in the Berkshires and every Columbus Day Weekend we would go to Nantucket.

     The Vineyard trips were well organized. We always had reasonable motel accommodations and about 5 cars full of birders. My most thrilling find was a family of long-eared owls at the State Forest there, but every trip was great fun.

     The Mount Greylock Camping Weekends in June were also well attended. Listening to the blackburnian warblers and winter wrens singing around the campground were most memorable. So was the chorus of thrushes that we heard every evening. We would end at least one day of the trip at the summit to hear, and often see, the Bicknell’s thrush that nested there back then. We also often heard barred owls at the campground during the middle of the night. Other trip highlights included the sighting of turkey vultures – rare in Massachusetts back then!

     The Nantucket weekends were highlighted with the barn owls in the evening, Cory’s shearwaters migrating past the island, and my first Sabine’s gull in Nantucket Harbor. The indelible image of the autumn colors of the moors on the island was worth the trip. Of course I can’t imagine doing those island trips today, especially because of the cost of accommodations on the islands, and the holiday weekend traffic to and from the Cape. Still, I wish we could bring them back somehow.

     The Spring and Fall meetings were held in a basement hall of the Boston Museum of Science. Everyone looked forward to the Spring Annual Meeting when we would get to hear Mary Lou Barnett read the statisticians report, eloquently recapping the previous year’s trips, birds, and birder accomplishments. The reports were often long, but no one cared. Her reports were always engaging, and presented in a way that only Mary Lou could do it.

     I particularly remember one of the special annual meetings, probably celebrating another anniversary of the club, when Judge Larry Jodrey presented a condensed history of the BBC, complete with slide show. The Judge’s emphatic way of speaking had the audience’s attention glued, and his wry sense of humor made the evening memorable. The classic slide of Clara deWindt in her bright red parka and Larry’s description of “Clara deWindt in winter plumage” brought down the house.

     Dues were just a dollar back when I joined. It is still a bargain at $15.00 for a whole year of free field trips! The club continues to welcome guests and new members and it will go out of its way to help you enjoy birds and birding. More information about the club and its trip schedule can be found awww.brooklinebirdclub.org

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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