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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scusset Beach, Cape Cod Canal, Sandwich, MA March 30-31, 2013

Nature is unkind: it treats creation like sacrificial straw dogs. But birding is not creation. It is a hobby and it's paths not so harshly ruled. Thank God for that. Birding would be a far more challenging (perhaps even dull) sport otherwise.

A preening (female) Red-breasted Merganser
With voices rivaling Comrade Butt himself eiders merrily whooped. Gulls wheeled and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, who had been kindly shown to us by a fellow binocular-wearer (thanks Linda), sat in a corner, on some sun-baked rocks and moped about his lot. He was a drab bird in general compared to some of his brothers, birds that had cured the kings pile and now live wealthy, frivolous lives in the mangrove swamps of the Caribbean, no this was a sorry specimen. His blood-shot eyes drifted wearily over his watchers, he didn't care to be the feathered-center of attention, but presumed not to interfere with his seeming fame, as it seemed to be the only way they would ever retire and they did, departing the scene with a flourish of drab garments followed by his satisfied gaze. 

The ducks sped with the foam scuds through the bloated canal which swam in and out of focus as I turned the focus wheel of my binoculars. The unique features of Common Eider were very much in evidence as were the equally strange moldings of Red-breasted Mergansers. A machine of fish-seekers and subsequent killers - nice, nice, very nice, so many different birds in the same device. But one individual was lacking in my view, the bird who, though not one to gain stardom, was making the Cape Cod birding community very happy. 

He was a King Eider and according to the birders asked, a bird who had just flown the canal, for the sake of the marina on the bay, a scopes view away, a scope which was currently lying battered and broken at home. Although my life list would not be lengthened by the end of the day, I left with a sun-dried murre's head in my pocket, a Purple Sandpiper and a three scoter (species) list; it was a grand day. 

On the matter of the murre's head there is not much to tell. After walking about a mile down the canal bike path to Scusset Beach, we strolled down the beach a little way musing on the odd, almost plover-like behavior of a pair of Savannah Sparrows foraging along the shore line. I finally happened upon an intact specimen, one of the many murres washed up dead along the beach, presumably the remains of some recent storm or other. His half fleshless head was too tempting a display for my bedroom and as he wouldn't be needing it any more I took the liberty of removing it with a professional twist. No more will the voice of this (unidentified) murre pollute the air, instead his mighty stench will pollute my gentle (?) snores, my lungs will wreak of this would-have-been lifer, long after his skull has crumbled to a powder on my desk. 

Because we had missed the King Eider today, my grandparents offered a berth to me and my brother in order to make a return visit to the location on the following morn.

It was 9:30am and with the sun's dazzling rays dancing over the still water and black-and-white backs of eider our collective pulse quickened to keep time with crunches of a crow rejuvenating his tissues on a crab in the bushes. We were birding once more. Over the mountains the watchers were watching, but we didn't mind. We were enthralled by the checkerboard pattern of a loon's back. Our revery was cut short however when the sleek looking bird dove to be replaced by an equally cool Red-breasted Merganser, a bird who puts the meaning into the word "freak" and almost as much into "punk".  As startling as he was, the flight of a swan was more so, and we were soon lost in our binoculars and the aerodynamic feathers of a Mute Swan. A flat trill in the distance sounded parula-like, but it was still quite early for such a species and the sight of the impenetrable wall of briars and cedars was too daunting to attempt an entry. The suspected singer was left unconfirmed.

Through the croaking of grackles and the more distant chirping of peepers my sibling’s horrific call rang clear - the King had been located!

Feathers dazzled the eye's of the pale-necks: blue, green, orange, white, black; he was a grandiose sight indeed and he knew it. His majestic sails curled with pride. He was a gentle bird but not a humble one. He took full responsibility for the glimmer of his feathers. he gloated and all the common folks looked at him and said "he is so beautiful that I am sure he has a long Latin name". He was King of the canal.

A barge barreled pass and a flock of terrified eider fled the scene, leaving the birders with a few backlit photos, some fairly poor views and, for some, a lifer.

My internal economy had been once more stabilized, for such is the power of birding.