24 June 2008
I noticed a while ago that since I began birding in December of 2006, I've been lucky enough to see a life bird each month following. Some have been stellar (obviously right at the beginning was pretty good), some have been by the skin of their teeth (...). I don't believe I'm going to keep it up forever, and honestly, considering how little I've been able to get out birding the past few months, what with promotions and a new house, I figured I was about due for a no-lifer month. In fact, last weekend my only goal was to meet my Bird RDA (20 birds). It was a weekend filled with barbecues, a sudden shift in my work schedule brought me in for a half-day on Saturday, and trying to fit in everything else that belongs in a weekend around them. But I was determined. A slightly hungover Sunday morning was cloudy with a slight chance of showers. I got up nice and early, eschewed food and drink, and decided to go for it. I went to one of my favorite haunts since last year, South Cape Beach State Park in Mashpee. It's pretty much my go-to place for shorebirds. The one mile walk through shrubby dunes to a stone jetty and the mouth of Waquoit Bay is pretty reliable for season-appropriate birds: Osprey, Willet, Mute Swans (arrgh...), Red-winged Blackbirds, goldfinches, Song Sparrows--you'd have to be tying your shoes the whole time not to notice them. I've been lucky enough to see Least Terns and Sandpipers, an off-season Brant, and any number of other things there. I've never seen a Piping Plover, however, even though they nest there. Of course, since they're protected, I don't get to get too close to the nests anyway, but it would be nice for me to see one there sometime. Where was I? Bird RDA! In the first half-mile I had eighteen species handily; it was high tide, so I missed some smaller sandpipers that I would have liked to see. I knew around the three-quarter mile mark was a great patch for seeing Horned Larks and as I approached I stopped when I heard a strange song. There was a lark, as close as I'd ever been to one, not caring about me at all, just preening and singing. Nineteen. Just needed one more. Out at the mouth of the Bay, I usually hope to see my sea ducks and waterbirds. Another local birder who frequents South Cape Beach often sees American Oystercatchers, but I've only seen one here as a flyover. I was really hoping for a Common Loon. However, a huge group of summer fishermen, -women, and -children were piled onto the stones of the jetty, and I didn't really feel like going all the way to the jetty. I scanned the waters--nothing, just the Common Terns waiting for a handout from the fishermen, and I had already counted them. I turned around and started trudging back to my car, knowing that I had to be gone in a half hour before they started checking for parking stickers. At the half-mile point, two surprises: a Carolina Wren, which I had never seen or heard here before, and a House Finch, likewise a new bird for my South Cape Beach list. My Bird RDA and personal goal met I picked up the pace and a sunny disposition returned to my face. As I approached the more traveled beach path a low-flying bird wheeled around me. The white wing bar that flashed instantly registered as yet another Willet, this time blissfully silent. I dutifully raised my binoculars to follow it only to catch a glimpse of a short orange bill and a dark eye staring back at me. Eep! Could it be? I noted the area where it landed about 25 yards behind me and pulled out my Petersen to brush up on field marks. I had been burned before with an incorrect ID of a late-season plover, I didn't want it to happen again. I waited patiently, and waited, looking for a sand-colored bird against a backdrop of sand, the possibility that it was hiding behind a patch of grass or beach rose gnawing at my mind, the sound of the tow truck's winch ringing in my ears. I followed what I thought was a quick movement, and stared and stared, like it was a puzzle that I could solve simply by concentrating. And then the questions and doubts starting playing in my mind: Did I miss it? Should I put down my binoculars? It's probably somewhere else, I should put down my binoculars. But what if it's in my binoculars already and I just can't see it? Did it fly away already? I decided to put down my binoculars and in that instant noticed a shape just to the left of where I had been looking. I focused in on it, and there was the head of the Piping Plover I had been tracking, fixing an eye on me, probably wondering why, of the two of us, it was the one that was endangered. It was a good morning indeed.