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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Six Golden Grosbeaks in Petersham, Massachusetts


In the beginning there was light and a quite obnoxiously loud BANG. Fast forward 13 billion years or so and you get me. You have my permission to stop at any given point between me and the beginning. Maybe you will stop by in the Jurassic to observe that peculiar creature the Archaeopteryx or maybe you will decide to see the last Dodo, perhaps you will even wish to see the Elder Things battle with the Star-Spawn of Cthulhu. But I do insist that you eventually come to pause on me and preferably on the day of October the 28th, 2012. I have two reasons to chose this great date. First off; on this date in time I was alive currently suffering through my thirteenth year of life and secondly; this was the day that I scored my first flock of Evening Grosbeaks.

I had on this date taken it into my head that I was currently the soul New England birder who had not seen the aforementioned grosbeak, though to be fair to my earlier self there must have been at least a few other New England birders who suffered from the same lackingness as I. Whatever the case I was goaded by the constant stream of infuriatingly delicious local reports of the species and I decided that a quick bike ride around town could do me little damage. I, in fact, nearly lost my left hand to frost bite later that same day but at the hour of 9 am I knew nothing of that future. My mind made up, it was in no time at all that I found myself seeing for the first time a clip to add to my birding history about three minutes long that will be forever graven into my brain (unless of course I forget it). In general it was a fairly unremarkable three minutes for the average muggle but to me these three minutes, which were more than likely just a prolonged one minute, were quite special.

In Minute Number One I take my bike out the garage and slowly wheel it down our dead-end road on which for most weekends dwell I. On reaching the base of the road the bike, for no reason whatsoever neatly topples from under me and sends me and all my geeky-ness sprawling. I not-so-neatly pick myself up, scramble back onto the seat of the bicycle and turn right heading for the center of town. My wheels complete 70 or so rotations at regular cadence before with barely a screech the bike again comes to a halt. This time although the vehicle tumbles the ground, I do not. 

Minute Number Two is played out something like this: after the bike comes to a halt I release the handle bars and extract myself from the device. I then proceed to call my younger brother back from in his position in front of me (he had, to my annoyance, insisted on accompanying me on this ride although, he bike-less, had to jog the route). I turned my attention, which at this point in time was employed through my ears, to my right and began to analyze the sound that had so rudely disrupted my revery of the still spinning bicycle wheels.

The noise in question was obviously the call note of a passerine. It was a soft purring chip resembling what you would vocally get if you bred a Great-crested Flycatcher with a House Sparrow (if such a thing were humanely possible). It was at this point that my brother reached me and we first set our eyes upon the golden form of the Evening Grosbeak. 

It's golden colors were so brilliant that I had to remind myself not to scan the surrounding trees in hopes of seeing perched in one of them Yossarian, stark naked and eating chocolate covered Egyptian cotton being handed to him by the ever hopeful Milo Minderbinder. (As an abrupt aside, might I suggest that anyone observing me now should quickly rewind at this point to the Mediterranean island of Pianosa, circa 1944, on the day of one Snowden's funeral attended by the tree-d Yossarian. For not only is it undoubtedly the strangest funeral you will ever go to it is also at the exact location that Pianosa's only endemic bird is observed for apparently the first and last time (and was described as a brilliant gold not unlike my grosbeak).

Minute Number Three runs its course in a startling 60 seconds. In this time I watch the grosbeak flutter about in a Sugar Maple where it's distinguished plumage sets off a seeming blast of flames; its colors blending with the red and yellow of the maple's last few brilliant leaves. I can almost hear the crackle of the fire.

In the last thirty second dash before my three minutes run dry I witness a flash of white as the wings of the bird open and close and send it whizzing into the air where it blends with the drifting gold of so many leaves caught and tossed in the wind. I lose the grosbeak in the falling foliage but then I see the flash of white again and this time it is joined by five similar, dancing white and gold comrades. They drift to the top a of tree where they perch. Their huge bills stand out prominently against the overcast skies. The gray light falls on them softly and it bleaches the colors out of their feathers, replacing the vibrance with a dark imitation. They blur into the background, and, for a moment, I see them as the last six leaves on a bare tree and I watch as the fall breeze plucks at these leaves and pulls them free from the grasp of the tree but the leaves float up instead of spiraling downward as any self respecting leaf should. I see flashes of white once more and realize my mistake as the six grosbeaks disappear over the treetops. 

ABA Bird of the Year
For anyone wishing to see more birding excitement stick around on this date for a few more hours and you will see me watching a pair of Lark Sparrows a five minute walk from my house.  

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