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Thursday, November 29, 2012


To quote the great NatGeo: "Calls are poorly known; one call reportedly a rippling tr-tr-tr and a soft whistle". I have never heard the above call, if I had I would be the proud rediscoverer of the Eskimo Curlew. Nor have I heard the rare call of the practically mute Ruff, but contrary to the curlew my experiences with this species transcend to a much higher level then just a literary knowledge.

It was a life bird when I found it. The moment is still engraved in my (always decaying) grey matter. I was standing on the mini dunes of RISD Beach when time froze. I had at first passed the bird off as a Greater Yellowlegs, a species which is as much a part of RISD Beach as the beach itself. My first squint at the bird had revealed nothing of it's heritage and my call of Greater Yellowlegs was just a guess. Thank God I gave the bird another look for as my eyes set on the bird once more I mentally trashed the idea of this bird being a yelllowlegs of any kind. I must say this was one of the most thrilling experiences that has been tossed my way yet. The sweet moment of realization, in my opinion, is one of the highlights of the birding disease which I am afflicted with. What had caused this sudden change of identification was no more than the birds back and I must admit that it didn't immediately strike me in any way vagrant like, in fact my first thought was snipe. But as the bird drew out into the open this random ID was quickly replaced by a frenzy of bafflement, confusion, puzzlement and many other types of unknowingness. This last array of thoughts lasted a mere second and after mentally flipping through the list of possible species I decided that species could not be an average one. Nataraja danced away my illusion and in a flash the ID had dawned on me; this bird was no average wader - this bird was a Ruff!!

After this the usual things happened: I got some cheap photos, ran around a little bit panicing, confirmed the identification, eBirded it and eventually reported it. We went back the next four days in a row and saw it on each. I liked seeing the beach being put to it's proper use, it is generally neglected by the birding community but now it was near certainly haunted by a flock of those elusive bird-obsessed. Each day produced new excitements and by the last of the four days I had scored a Dickcissel, two Snow Buntings, three late Least, one late Semipalmated Sandpiper and (a partridge in a pear tree) although the excitement eventually died, the birds continued to flow in.

When Sandy FINALLY hit (a storm I had been looking forward to all week) I was unable to check on the Ruff due to some rumor about the storm being a safety hazard. The next day the Ruff did not show  and I had to admit that she (she had been identified as a female, a reeve) had "flown the marsh". But this lack of reeve Ruff was made up for in full. Two days after Sandy swept through a Cory's Shearwater flew over RISD Beach.

This event was quite amazing and although not quite as extraordinary an occurrence as that of the Ruff it was still a moment which will be long lived in my rotting brain. It soared low, directly overhead from North-ish to South-ish over the neighboring country club, swept past the marsh and above the long missed salt-water. It was followed quickly by my camera lens.

As it wheeled by it was hard not think of the last few, severe, starving days this beautiful bird had suffered through. It was a fit, but bedraggled, specimen and you could literally see the relief and pleasure in the birds countenance as it bathed itself in the pleasing salt water and skimmed, inches, above the gently rolling waves. The story behind this birds strange location (for it was indeed strange, this bird was as far as I know the most Northernly report of the species in the state along with being the fifth November record for the same state) was quite obvious. The bird had, near certainly, been blown helter-skelter across miles of frothing ocean and then continued on over beach, town, woods and field until Sandy, the culprit of this terrible blowing, released it from it's enveloping folds and let its fly as it will. From there a long and arduous journey back over fields, town, woods and finally beach, RISD Beach, ensued.

I think the flight of the shearwater has to be one of the most beautiful sights in nature, easily comparable  to the Aurora Borealis, a deep, dark, dank, dirty rainforest over flowing with the songs of hidden birds, or even the terrible countenance of the penguin eating Shoggoth (illustration below). The shearwater sweeps over the water riding the breeze as easily as a ball rolls down a slope or our dog chases a squirrel. The bird skims, swerves, swerves again and vanishes behind the crest of a wave, but as the wave hits the shore and gently recedes the bird is once more seen, continuing its loving waltz with the swells.

It was, I think, a near perfect lifer.
The terrible Shoggoth