I wish to apologize in advance if this post comes out garbled—there is a rather large husky trying to climb into my lap. Which tells you some of what I’ve been doing this weekend.
Two friends of mine, who also happen to run the small press that publishes one of my comics, invited me up to Cape Cod to go birdwatching. This is supposed to be one of the great birding weekends of the year up here. It’s pretty wet this weekend, actually, but still very pleasant to wander through the woods and occasional salt marsh, looking for birds.
If you ever wish to go bird watching, you can do a LOT worse than a former Eagle Scout and an ornithologist.
As they are husky owners, two large dogs have been accompanying us everywhere on leash. They find stopping repeatedly for birds boring, but because they are huskies, they’re not inclined to bark and seem to bear the whole process rather resignedly. (Tomorrow we head to the beach and the dogs will have to stay home, as even dogs that are very patient around small zippy birds in trees get over-frantic on the beach with huge! flocks! of seagulls! and peeps! and ducks!)
They did get rather worked up over the Ruffed Grouse that flew up from under our feet. These are dogs meant to pull sleds rather than retrieve grouse, but they were willing to give it a try.
Ruffed Grouse was just one of a number of life birds for me. I also got the Common Eider, a spectacular duck, and (sigh) the Baltimore Oriole, at long last, a bird that has eluded me so determinedly for so long and which is so dead common that I was starting to think I exuded some kind of Anti-Oriole Field. (You can, in theory, attract Orioles by putting out orange halves on a feeder. This never worked for me, but I did attract Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, which were also pretty awesome.)
We also slowly and methodically tracked down the Grasshopper Sparrow.
This is a sparrow that looks rather as if someone hit it on the head with a board. It has a very flattened forehead, the Neanderthal of sparrows.* It makes a ZZZZZT! call very much like a grasshopper, hence the name, and like most sparrows is pretty much a devil to spot. We were lucky enough to catch one singing from the top of a scruffy shrub. It took over ten minutes and the huskies were extremely patient about the whole thing.
If you are a birder, you probably also know the exasperation of poring over your bird guide trying to figure out what the heck you’re looking at, and then it turns out to be a first-year male in some weird variation of breeding plumage, usually of something terribly common. (First-year male Orchard Oriole, in our case.)
This area was a wildlife refuge, with sporadic mowing to keep grass at different heights and a chunk of woodland. Sections of the woodland had been recently burned and except for some honeysuckle infestations, the entire area was in remarkably good shape. As a result, there were some really good birds there–Prairie Warblers gone nearly spherical in the chill, but still singing happily, a mixed bag of sparrows, towhees, peewees, kingbirds, phoebes, and a few other warblers. (At certain times of year, you can apparently even pick up Yellow-Breasted Chats in this spot, and if you’re lucky, a cuckoo.)
Given that I am from the West Coast originally, I admit, I had a vague notion of the East Coast as one sprawling metropolis, overbuilt and densely inhabited. So visiting Cape Cod has actually been very eye-opening—some fantastic wild areas, wildlife as impressively large as wild turkeys and fishers (fishers! in the back yard, no less!) and some very good land management for wildlife. That’s always so gratifying to see. The number of marshes and ponds and wet fields swarming with Red-Winged Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens is really spectacular.
There were also some excellent native plants, but you’ll have to wait for the companion post to this one, on the 29th, at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardening to hear about those.
And now I have to get a husky off my lap before my leg falls asleep. And then possibly falls off.
*YES, I am promoting an outdated stereotype of Neanderthals. I am aware.
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