Mother Natures Rules

Posted by Jane N on

The Rare Bird Alert, Audubon website & Ebird were all a buzz about the sightings of a Great Horned Owl on Plum Island. The reports stated that there was a nesting pair in the small pine grove at the Bill Forward Bird Blind. Wow, this could not be an easier find, I knew exactly where that was. So I set out early Saturday to find this owl.

We have had a couple of really nasty Nor’easters the last couple of weekends and I had seen the news reports of extensive damage done to homes along the coastline on Plum Island. Nearly a dozen homes had fallen or were in danger of falling into the ocean as the high tide and extreme waves had lashed at the coastline. The National Guard was patrolling the area and the island had been evacuated and closed off. I work with a woman who has family on the island, their home was spared and she said that the refuge was not damaged. I checked their website and it didn't say the refuge was closed so I decided to head out in search of the owl.

Along the road just before the bridge crossing onto the island there were large flashing signs saying “ ALL BEACHES CLOSED” “AREA PATROLLED” “VIOLATORS WILL BE ARRESTED”. Ummm... I decided to pull over just before crossing the bridge, I got out and scanned across the water to the island. My friend had told me that the only road on the island was blocked off just after the small restaurant on the corner as you cross the bridge. The road to the refuge was the first right-hand turn after crossing the bridge, before the intersection where the restaurant was. Sure enough, as I scanned with my binoculars I could see a military jeep in the road and wooden sawhorses set up.

I decided to give it a try and cross onto the island, I figured the worst that would happen was that they would turn me around, surely they wouldn't arrest a gray-haired bird lady?

Phew.. I made it onto the refuge with no problems! As is usual I stopped at the first lot to check things out. (well lets be honest any of you that have been on the refuge with me knows that the 1st lot is the only place on the refuge where you can relieve yourself without having to hold your breath AND has flush toilets) I see a birder with a scope set up scanning the salt marsh at the edge of the lot, he looks familiar, I decide to walk over and ask what he has spotted. It was an island regular, Tom, he runs a website about bird sightings on Plum Island. Picture Santa Clause in camouflage & khakis instead of a red suit and with a spotting scope over his shoulder instead of a sack of toys and that's Tom.

He was watching a pair of Bald Eagles sitting atop a nesting platform. No matter how many times I see an eagle it still impresses me, their beauty and size. We talk about birds a bit, I tell him I am on the island to see the nesting Great Horned Owl. Unfortunately, he tells me that the park service has closed off the area where the owls are nesting. It seems the owls had become too popular, the paparazzi were becoming a problem. People with large camera set-ups were literally camping out for the day, setting up with chairs, and coolers snapping away, all hoping to get that once in a life time money maker shot of an elusive owl. The park service had no choice but to restrict access to protect the owls. I was disappointed but supported their decision.

Tom tells me that if I go to the edge of the fence at the far side of the parking area by the boardwalk I might get a sighting of a Horned Lark. He said there had been a small flock in the field to the left there earlier that morning. I haven't seen a Horned Lark so I walked over to see what I could see. Of course the boardwalk to the beach was tapped off with yellow caution tape and a sign warning “NO ACCESS” “Violators will be punished”.

I have heard many pleasant bird songs in my search for birds and it sure calms your soul listening to Mother Natures little jewels communicate. But the “bird” I was now hearing was anything but pleasant. A helicopter had swooped in and was hovering overhead to my left. As I turned I could see the arm of a large yellow excavator above the dunes and hear the distinctive sound of a bull-dowser. I could hear the sound of wood crunching and see dust rising above the dunes. I'm sure the helicopter was another news crew taking pictures of the demise of someones home. It felt wrong to be watching as Mother Nature reclaimed her territory. I decided to move on.

Even though I knew the area where the owls were was closed I figured I would drive by and maybe I could see something from the road. As I drove along the dirt road as expected every parking lot with access to the beach was tapped off and signs warning “NO ACCESS” Violators will be punished”. The island felt sad and lonely, the sky was gray and it was cold. Sure enough as I approached the bird blind I could see the yellow caution tape and more signs “NO ACCESS” Violators will be punished”. I pulled over the best I could and put on my flashers, I got out and stood along the edge of the caution tape scanning the pine grove hoping to see the owls.

Nothing, I couldn't see a thing, no owls. A young couple I had passed walking along the dirt road came up, they asked if I was able to spot the owls, I told them sadly no. Like me they had also come onto the island in the hope of seeing the nesting Great Horned Owl. They said they had parked at the Hellcat trail and walked the ½ mile to this spot to try and see the owls. We talked birds for a bit then they both immersed themselves in scrolling through their Iphones, I got the hint, I wished them good luck and drove away. As I looked in my rear view mirror through the dust my car was kicking up I could see them lifting the yellow tape and running for cover of the pine grove. We birders can be intense, honestly, I had thought about it as well but I was to afraid of being caught to take the chance.

The island was sad, I could still hear the helicopter hovering overhead. As I drove over the bridge I looked in my rear view mirror and could see the dust clouds and smoke of the demolition of peoples homes and dreams as Mother Nature reclaimed her territory. Man can try to tame her but in the end man must learn to live by Mother Natures Rules.

I haven't given up in my search for the Great Horned Owl. I checked out Ebird and Katie I found that there have been multiple sightings in your area! A nesting pair in the backwoods of Hampshire College, a pair along the Station Rd rail trail and at Haydenville Loop. Katie are you familiar with these areas? How do you feel about a gray haired birder coming to visit? I promise to behave.

Happy Birding, Jane

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