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Monday, March 31, 2014

Sachuest Point NWR - March 27, 2014

No fog drifted across the landscape, yet despite this most un-obvious lack, the day was of a rather rustic complexion. The clouds maintained a dreary, grey pallor as they scudded above the fields of Sachuest Point pushed onward to the horizon by a breeze of an intimidating strength. We had departed, grandfather, brother and I, to this seemingly barren region in the hopes of seeing a particularly famed Barn Owl. A bird which had daily amazed the binocular-wielding clan, flying moth-like and low above the grasses to the tune of feathered wings returning to nighttime roosts. This was a thrilling creature not only in the birds rhythm but also in its status - an elusive species and what may be called a priority “twitch” (i.e. a bird which you should drive a hell of a long way to see).

We arrived at 3:00pm to find the parking area barren of birders, a rare happenstance. All to be observed in the way of pale-necks (birders) were a few gents carrying porro prism binoculars and while so doing enjoying the comfort of their pickup trucks. It should be noted that in the birding world there exist three classes of birders; the birdwatcher (i.e. people who own cheap binoculars), listers (i.e. people who maintain not only a life list but care for their year list with similar enthusiasm), and finally the birders (i.e. people who own expensive binoculars and dislike birdwatchers and despise listers). These people were of the birdwatcher genre and therefore in the birding world considered of no importance. It should also be known that I consider myself a member of none of these classes but embody styles and habits from all three. Now, to return to the story; not only were birders notably lacking from the scene, but equally every other species generally visible from the car lot were not to be found. However, just visible in the marsh was what appeared to be a Snowy Owl, hunkering against the cold in neither a stylish nor owlish manner, but an owl just the same. We observed this individual for a few minutes but the distance, even through a spotting scope, was daunting in the manner of viewing and we soon lost interest, deciding to get a closer view later in the day when perhaps it would be more active.

Despite the large distance spanned by the well-kept nature trail, the sought for Barn Owl was on average most easily found over the fields directly below the parking lot at dusk. Yet the sun had a good three hours between its current position and the horizon and it was therefore decided that owls would be unlikely to be seen flying at such a time. A walk around the grounds would be more successful in the aim of seeing birds. Thus we embarked down the trail heading to the south and west. Here we found our second Snowy of the day. This bird was to be seen sitting on the hill facing west to Sachuest Bay where Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads were just visible bobbing amongst the waves of unsavory proportions. This bird was a rather fine individual whose plumage was all but unmarred by dark barring common to the species. He seemed rather uninterested in our presence although he was an alert creature; constantly displaying his head-turning capabilities as he scanned the surrounding area for predatory dangers or prey to be predated. After observing the marvelous creature for a good while we continued our walk. Although we did not see anymore birds which matched the owls in scarcity or proletarian popularity the walk was an enjoyable one. At Sachuest Point itself, the namesake of the refuge, we scored for our list both Surf and Black Scoter, while Harlequin Ducks and a larger flock of Black Scoter were seen near Island Rocks  (on average the most successful birding spot of the refuge’s land). On the nature of the Harlequin Ducks, it should be noted that these are stunning birds. The males outer appearance consists of a complex design, featuring; slate-blue, a contrasting white and a dark rufous color commonly seen on the spines and covers of outdated books. These birds are a popular species in the birding world but have gained little notoriety elsewhere despite both their striking appearance and their bold habit of favoring rocky coastlines (and along those coastlines the most wave swept and sharpest rock outcroppings) where they dive for invertebrate cuisine.

After a while, that being the time it took us to get properly chilled from the wrathful sea breeze, we returned to the car and drove over to Newport for a coffee break. Nothing needs to be said on the nature of this brief birding cool-down, although perhaps warm-up would be more apt to describe the situation, other than that the we found the visited Dunkin’ Donuts to be particularly pleasant. 
Soon we returned to the sanctuary where we recognized that the day was now getting late, it being about 5:00pm, and the large and alarmingly tame White-tailed Deer population was now making its crepuscular appearance. Still no Barn Owl was to be seen so we walked part of the trail which headed along the north-eastern division of the refuge’s coast. Other than a number of deer, some Purple Sandpipers sharing a rock, and a particularly heroic-looking Red-tailed Hawk (although it could be argued that all individuals of this species display a particularly heroic appearance, and that therefore this bird was nothing special) little was to be seen. 

We then agreed that the best approach to seeing the Barn Owl would be to return to the car and await the birds appearance. We did as such and subsequently were treated to a quick view of the second of the two Snowy Owls we had seen that day (apparently there were four in the refuge) as it flew in no particular direction and with similarly vague (to us at least) motivation. Leaping from the car, whose windows had just begun to fog, we hurried to the spot where this owl had been seen to fly, that being directly behind the visitor center. We were unable to locate the feathered creature but did meet up again with the hawk-who-we-were-not-sure-was-heroic. He sat at the very top of the center’s roof and as he took flight from this promontory, which was almost directly above us, I found I had come down with a case of Birder’s Back, which, as can be imagined, is far more dramatic in its achievement than the dreaded Birder’s Neck. The pain of the misdirected back soon faded as did the final rays of the sun. Finding ourselves yet again of a chilled manner we returned once more to the warmth of the car.

After a while we got bored of the particular view which we had chosen for ourselves, so we drove down to the Sachuest Saltmarsh, which is just visible from the visitor center. This was where we had seen the first Snowy Owl of the day hunkering in that unstylish manner of his. When we arrived at this new view point the Snowy, still not recognizing of his flaws of posture, sat keeping company with a few Killdeer and some birdwatchers, all of whom still rested in pickup trucks. Here we stayed for some fifteen minutes watching deer grazing in the meadows and quite desperately hoping for the appearance of the Barn Owl, a bird which we have tried for with no success multiple times this year. It is with heavy heart that I inform the reader that like previous attempts this excursion was, in its primary goal, a failure, but despite this sorry fact an enjoyable and pleasant day nonetheless. Dammit all we DID see two Snowy Owls (and a Mink which I neglected to mention) - isn't that enough? 

Thanks is once more owed to my grandfather for escorting, sponsoring, and enjoying this naturalists adventure. It was, after all a quite awesome experience.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Gooseberry Neck, Dartmouth, MA - December 28, 2013

The sky was a brilliant blue as we dashed across the stone-strewed beach. The object of our dashing was in no need of our speedy movement in its excellent direction as it was just barely visible, bobbing in the waves in the center of a wind swept cove. As presumably has not been surmised as of yet this eminent bird was a Dovekie, a name which would inspire awe in a birder and in a non-birder an “aww”.
Now standing upon the wave washed rocks of the shoreline and we (“we” being grandfather, brother and I) majestically stared at the feathered object in a manner commonly seen in action movies. Perhaps it was our powerful but compassionate stance that drew the bird to us, although it seems to me more likely sheer chance, yet whatever it's reason, it came.

Paddling to shore (strangely; via wings) it squirmed itself up the beach and politely leaped onto my brothers leg who, like me, had lowered himself to the ground in order to obtain the best photographic perspective.

With this final curios act perpetrated a panicked scramble across Dartmouth began in order to assure survival for the creature. A bird who had so willingly accepted being placed in the back seat of our car, submerged under a blanket. The fact that there were no open wildlife rehabilitation centers was not particularly surprising as it was not only a Sunday but also the winter holidays.

When this disappointing fact was finally recognized, we had no choice but to return to birding because we wanted to and the Dovekie seemed comfortable where it was.

As the awesome sun was drawing near its daily demise, we had only time to bird Allen’s Pond. This location yielded nothing more exciting then a male Ring-necked Pheasant, a year-bird for all.

The sky now dark, we retreated to our urban abode for to spend the night, with us came the Dovekie to be handed to a rehabilitator on the following morn. It spent the star-light hours in a box in our comfortable basement where it seemed surprisingly at home.

Examining the bird we could find no visible or invisible injury on the perfectly mobile bird other than a small patch of missing feathers upon the rump.

It was this that the rehab, which received the feathered package, identified as the issue. Probably caused by the casually aggressive swoop of a gull this bare-ass patch de-waterproofed the fair creature - a sure casualty of nature if not for my bold and heroic rescuing.

Once again I must thank my grandfather for his company, the use of his locomotive, and the opportunity his generosity provided (for me to be noble). 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cape Cod 12/24/12 (7:37am-4:42pm)

T'was the morn before Christmas and all through my head frolicked the noises of the Cape Codian highway and the Crosby, Stills and Nash playing on the stereo. “Chestnut-brown Canary, Ruby-throated Sparrow, sing your song...” yet my mind was distracted by the possibility of the more existent birds that awaited us this day. A single grey cloud swathed the horizon in a damp pallor, but we remained undaunted as we approached Provincetown. 

We arrived (”we” being grandfather, brother and I) in the seemingly deserted parking lot of Race Point as the clock dashed through the 8:40's. A screech of breaks, a slamming of doors and the zipping of coats and then we were enjoying the company of a Palm Warbler. It in turn was enjoying the roof of the abandoned park restrooms on which it’s frozen feet clutched in order not to be swept away by that unpleasant sea breeze. Palm Warblers tend to be rather uncommon so late in the season so this was a particularly pleasing find.

Approximately a minute later we tallied our first and only lifer of the day which came packaged in the form of an Iceland Gull, we would have five of the species by the end of the day.

Two of three Iceland Gulls sen at Race Point
Another Iceland Gull
Our confidence boosted to a level only attainable through good birding we advanced down the beach. Confidence alone however was not enough to keep the self warm through the billowing caresses of the frozen wind and we soon withdrew back to the comparative safety of the car. We had in this rather short time nonetheless seen a number of species including; Northern Gannets, Snow Buntings, White-winged Scoters, two more Iceland Gull and a particularly handsome Gray Seal.

The next stop on the route was one Herring Cove. While not being any great distance from the last beach it is quite unlike it’s counterpart. Most noticeable in comparison with Race Point is that this beach faces into the placid Cape Cod Bay instead of the unfriendly turmoil of waves and wind that is the great North Atlantic.

Abutted by towering dunes, those mighty piles of ground stone and shells looked upon so fondly by those unique beings, New Englanders, the beach glimmered in the now just appearing sun. Unions of hardy aves (gulls and cormorants) littered the beach in un-organized patches of cackling bills, flesh and feathers. In the water similar organizations had been founded by even more numerous Eiders, Scoters and Mergansers. Above them frequently could be seen small flocks of Dunlin carrying themselves east via sputtering flight. We soon grew tired of the location’s feathered selection who although all fascinating were of but a few species and all (still) common. As we departed a brief glimpse of a fly-by Iceland Gull made the walk worthwhile. 

A quick drive through some large salt marshes, where all to be seen was some mud, a kingfisher and a couple of American Black Ducks, and then through the center of town, which consisted solely of gift-shops, we found ourselves meandering down the town pier. 
Listen: I am unsure how the residents of Provincetown survive with a shopping venue which includes but baseball caps and magnets with lobsters on them and most notably does not include any edible items. 

Returning back to the thought-stream from which I have just strayed; here eiders, Buffleheads and goldeneyes floated amongst the boats of their anthropomorphic coworkers. Into the feathered stage rose to my eyes the princely crown of an immature King Eider. A most elegant duck who paddled about in circles for a good half-hour serving only to make us rather dizzy and bored. The motionless form of an elegant Oldsquaw came as a relief as did the return to CSN and the cushioned seats of the car. For those unfamiliar with the name “Oldsquaw”; it is the original (and offensive) title of the bird now referred to as the Long-tailed Duck, which I use only for its unorthodoxy. 
The King Eider and a Common Eider
A Common Loon at the Provincetown Docks

Next we ... this is getting boring and I want to start writing a post about the Dovekie we saw the other day, scratch this here’s a list (with attached notes and numbers when recorded):

Brant (Branta bernicla) - a few at First Encounter Beach.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

American Wigeon (Anas americana) - a few in Marston's Mill Pond.
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Northern Pintail (Anas acute) - Martson's Mill Pond.
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) -Marston's Mill Pond.
King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) - Provincetown Docks.
Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) - Provincetown Docks and Corporation Beach.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

Common Merganser Mergus merganser)

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
- Herring Cove.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea hernias)
- Marston's Mill Pond.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Sanderling (Calidris alba)
- a few with Dunlin at First Encounter Beach.
Dunlin (Calidris alpine) - Herring Cove flyby flocks and a small flock at First Encounter Beach.
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) - 3 at Race Point, 1 at Herring Cove and another at Fort Hill.
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
- Hunting in a salt marsh in Provincetown.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus

Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa - with Yellow-rumped Warbler at Fort Hill.
Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis - heard singing at Wellfleet Bay Audubon.
American Robin Turdus migratorius

Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
- flyover flock at Race Point.
Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum)
- Race Point and Fort Hill.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) - flock at Fort Hill.
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arbor) - Wellfleet Bay Audubon feeders.
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) - at the feeders of Wellfleet Bay Audubon.
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melody)

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
- in the grasses by Marston's Mill Pond.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinals)

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoenixes) - flock at Wellfleet Bay Audubon.
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

55 species in total, an excellent number for a single December day in Massachusetts. Credit and thanks is owed to my grandfather for his willingness to drive us around Cape Cod on our annual Solstice birding trip.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On the ethics of a cage bird

As I write this I am peering through the bars of a cage, inside a lovebird flutters, a bored but regal smile perched on her immobile bill. She is a handsome creature, House Sparrow sized, orange face roosting beady black eyes and the bill, pale and conical, from which issue a variety of querying chirps. Her tail is of medium length, triangular but stubby. Grey feet prop up her light green stomach matching her green hood of feathers. The blue rump is obscured by emerald wings and I find that I have exhausted my ability to describe this marvelous creature’s outward countenance. Now to her emotional appearance I shall leap. 

It would be inaccurate to describe this burbling bundle of vibrant feathers as gallant, for she will squawk and flutter with a great deal of agitation to anything in the least varying from its regular course. For after all, a bird is but flesh and blood. But yet again this same bird will happily attack the household dog, an act which could be depicted only as bold (or stupid). She is safe in her cage, her room and her house, and she takes full advantage of this knowledge whenever the chance of escape from behind the bars arises. Once free she will flap and chirrup her way about the house, enjoying the only freedom she knows, a safe one. For as well may be expected she realizes nothing of the outward world, a world beyond the house. Windows mean nothing to a bird! 

To her she has freedom on a regular basis, for she leaves her cage when ever it is cleaned, and to perfect her comfortable position she has safety, food, water and a nest of shredded newspaper. She lives a life of perfect bliss and near complete unknowing. What more could one desire? 

To state my argument clearly; captivity without knowledge of freedom is freedom ... in fact with the safety which is received by most pets it could be arguably stated that this is the perfect freedom.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Birds for birding but how so?

“Dogs for dogging, Hands for clapping, Birds for birding, Fish for fishing”

~ The Beatles - Revolution 9

It would be a waste of time to discuss each of these lines “Dogs for dogging” etc. Instead I shall focus on the one which would concern the members of this fine organization, obviously “Birds for birding”.

For many years a dispute has raged freely through the feather seeking ranks. That being the question of the function of the bird in our hobby. Most (lets call them Team #1) will passionately argue for the virtue of the view, seeing these beautiful beasts in their natural environments. What could be more pleasant then with a teasing sea-wind frolicking over your broad-rimmed hat, peering over a chaotic landscape of wave-washed rocks to the pale form of a Glaucous Gull. Chancing upon a singing Cerulean Warbler in a dancing beam of oak-tinted sunlight high on tree, high on hillside, leaves one high on life.
Not to say this is not what Team #2 seeks just as eagerly, but for them the wind, the trees, the glaring sunlight; all
these are distractions and disadvantages. They seek the bird for the immaterial collection (the check-list). They strive only for a bigger list. To them more birds means more skill and in general that is the case.
These are birders with a goal and this in reality is not necessarily a bad thing.
I am not a lister but that is not to say that I don’t enjoy another name on my catalog. I find the process of keeping a list up to date tedious and boring. I have many incomplete lists!
I have no argument with a bicker in fact I find few things more pleasing then a good quarrel. But from my perspective this altercation seems lame and often even stupid. I don’t wish to take sides but I think I must. The ideas coming from Team #1 are in eliminating listers damaging the only thing they stand for more. This is, as may have been surmised, the recruiting the of the next generation of pale-necks. It seems to me ridiculous to expect a kid would ever appreciate the observation of even the most colorful birds enough to see the cheapest of field guides a worthy buy without already being deeply involved with the hobby. Team #1 seems to have unwittingly stumbled into a catch-22 of their very own; for they hate listers birding and love kids birding but to be a birder a kid must almost certainly be a lister.
Children should see birding as a game and nothing more; later they can be easily encouraged to enjoy the birds.
I recall when I was small, about 8 years-old, and I had just begun birding that to me the list was at the heart of the hobby, the joy of birds only later grew on me. “Gently rising, rising, rising, as a stiff bloated corpse gently rises above an oily river that flows under endless onyx bridges to a black, putrid sea”.
Team #1 should learn to except these rats in the walls (ie. Team #2) as Team #2 seemingly has excepted them in turn. Have you ever heard the argument from a point of a lister?

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." ~ Grouch Marx 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A post of mine on The Eyrie

Sorry for not posting recently for once I can seriously say I have been busy (please disregard every other time I have said that). As you may or may not know (probably the latter) I have for the last two years been a "young editor", though all I actually do is write posts, for the American Birding Association young birder blog The Eyrie. Seeing that this blog has been a miserably dull read of late I shall give you a link to my most recent post on The Eyrie:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gooseberry Neck May/10/13

Golden sunflakes danced off the roofs of cars scattered through the parking lot, although eye-catching it was not eye-holding, the glimmer of a White-crowned Sparrows feathers were far too riveting.
It was just one of a surprisingly large mix of sparrow species in the area. Chipping Sparrows skipping past White-throated Sparrows who in turn danced among the Savannah and Song Sparrows. The latter, who's song could easily be heard anywhere on the preserve, outnumbered only by the gaily frolicking Yellow Warblers. 
White-crowned Sparrow
The sparrows amused us but for a short while. The feathered envoys of Gooseberry Neck called us away from the parking lot with angelic voices. We tripped merrily down the path gawking at the blazing red shoulders of blackbirds, the burbles of goldfinches. A terrible cry emerged from my brother breaking my extreme gawk. He had just seen the alien feathers and the corresponding body of a Kentucky Warbler wing into a patch thick bushes and, in the same manner, away. All far before I had a chance to get on it. A missed lifer.

We continued forth, our course unchanged by the sorrow that had descended upon my walk like a wicked voorish dome in Deep Dendo. "The black and green scarecrow is sadder than me, but now he's resigned to his fate, cause life's not unkind - he doesn't mind", so straightening my back and adjusting my binocular harness I followed in the footsteps of the straw-man. I returned to the Palace of San-Souci aided by a Chestnut-brown Canary one of my very favorite species. 

The clattering song of a Virginia Rail jarred me from my mind where I'd been going through an assortment of Led Zeppelin lyrics in hopes of finding one useful in just such a blog post as this. "In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings, sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven" and all that. As I was saying, a Virginia Rail sang, surprisingly from some scrubby bushes a understanding between feather and twig that I had previously no knowledge of, and god was it a frustrating one. This bird was feet from the path and completely hidden. As I gnashed my teeth and stamped my feet it continued it's unforgiving squawk.

Least Terns called from the beach. Cormorants, antediluvian in all uses of the delightful word, mused on their shrouded past as I swirled through the land of aves accompanied by trusted binoculars. 
I dashed from bird to bird, dodging all distractions. I scented feathers and a nearby Ruby-throated Sparrow laughed, and said "pray, what may that creature be doing? I rise but a few yards in the air and settle down again, after flying around among the reeds. That is as much as anyone would want to fly. Now, wherever can this creature be going to?" In fact I was bounding to a pair of lifers although this was not a realization I had at that point come to.

Grasshopper Sparrow
The first lifer to materialize was a Bay-breasted Warbler. A handsome male who perched with all the grace that only a warbler can maintain for any great length of time (especially the Grace's Warbler) in the shrubbery along the path and right next to parking lot where the sunflakes still lazily glittered on the locomotives. "Sing your song, don't be long" I begged but the elegant bird refused and with a courteous nod, flitted away on equally elegant wings. I peered through the freshly deserted branches and spied a sight which thrilled me to the marrow. Overhead the gull hung 
motionless upon the air and deep beneath the rolling waves in labyrinths of coral caves, the echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand but I was far too enthralled with the Grasshopper Sparrow who had suddenly confronted my feather weary (but still hungry) eye's. Suddenly focused I gave not a damn about anything else (even Pink Floyd). This dainty mirage (which was not in fact anything but reality) hopped up onto a rock, glanced our way and then vanished with an imagined "pop". As our heartbeats slowed the waves rolled by and life flowed on, screaming through the sunlit sky, momentarily stranding us in our frozen bubble of awe. Thankfully we were able to catch back up with reality accompanied with some documentary photographs of the lifer duo.
Bay-breasted Warbler

"Look at the sky, look at the ocean, isn't it good?" But for me birding is far better...