The Naked Birder

Posted by Jane N on

This past Saturday Beth, Chris, Becky and myself spent the day on Plum Island. This was the first time Becky had joined us on the island for some birding. She was a little hesitant about spending a chilly windy November day on the Atlantic Ocean. But she was a real trooper, she came prepared for the weather with a sweater, down vest, ski jacket, scarf, hat, gloves and snow pants. The truth is it wasn't really that cold on the island, temps were around 40. Thou the wind was cold coming off the ocean. But still better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, right?

I was excited to show Becky all my favorite places to bird on the island and share the experience with her. I did my research ahead of time to see where the birds we were hoping to see might be. Beth was hoping to see a Brant, I was hoping to see an American Pipit, Chris had no expectations, she just enjoys seeing something interesting or different. So we headed out across the boardwalk over the dunes to the ocean wondering what we might spot.

Beth and I are ahead of Chris and Becky, as we are walking I hear this faint whiit...whiit...whiit. You see I am an Ear Birder, I usually hear the bird before I see it. Beth & I stop, I cup my ears in the direction the sound seemed to be coming from, but it had stopped. We walk a little more when I hear the sound again whiit...whiit...whiit. The sound seems to be coming from behind me, I turn and bring my hands to my ears to zero in on the sound. I see Becky walking towards me, with each step I hear whiit...whiit....whiit... Duh, it's the sound her snow pants are making as she is walking.

We scrambled across the rocks at the end of the island to get a better view of a large flock of Surf Scooters feeding just off shore. We see an assortment of Gulls and a Loon in it's Winter plumage. The sun is warm but the wind is cold, it's time to head back, time for lunch. As we are driving along the dirt road of the refuge we see a group of cars pulled over at a trail head. There are people with large camera outfits and scopes gathered. This is a sure sign that something good has been spotted!

We stop and I ask Becky to roll down her window and ask them whats been sighted. It's the Snowy Owl! Wow it's on the island early this year. It was the same trail that we saw the owl on with you Emily. I ask the girls if it's worth stopping and walking out to see it. Beth, Chris & I have seen the Snowy before but I didn't think Becky had. But Becky says “Nah, I've seen them before I'm not interested” I'm really surprised, as we drive on I question her further, I ask her when did she ever get the chance to see an Arctic Snowy Owl before? Uh my little sister answers “Oh I've seen plenty of pictures of Snowy Owls” What?! I'm flabbergasted! I can't believe some one would give up the chance to see a live Snowy Owl. But my little sister redeemed her self at our next stop.

We had one last stop to make before leaving the island, Hellcat Trails. I knew we didn't have the time to take the trail but we wanted to make a quick check of the observation tower over looking the salt marsh since there had been reports of Brants being sighted there. We get to the edge of the dike and I'm scanning the marsh with my binoculars when Becky points out a tall bird she sees at the edge of the marsh quite a ways away. Becky didn't bring binoculars, she birds free-style. I zoom in on where she is pointing and it is an American Bittern lurking in the tall reeds! Wow! I can't believe she was able to spot that bird camouflaged among the reeds with her naked eye! Very impressive!

Katie, you'll get a laugh out of this, I was birding in my Ninja Birder outfit, I had my long black scarf wrapped around my head and around my face with only my eyes showing. I was trying to get my binoculars off to pass them to Becky so she could get an up close look at the Bittern but in the process, I got the strap all wound up in my scarf. I couldn't get them off and don't want her to miss the bird so I hugged her to get close enough so she could look through my binoculars while I still had them around my neck. I think I might have embarrassed my sister a bit, but she got a good look at a life list bird.

As we are leaving Hellcat Trails two medium sized birds fly by at top speed in front of us. All I see are two dark blurs, Beth says all she can make out is that it was two of something that sped by. Becky again impresses us with her naked birding skills. She describes what she saw, two medium sized birds, blue bodies, white belly, rusty neck. After checking a field guide she decides they were Eastern Bluebirds, yup that description fits. Kudos to Becky on another great ID.

I do hereby bestow upon my sister Rebecca the title of The Naked Birder. Rest assured this is a very honorable title, in birders lingo a Naked Birder is someone who can spot and ID birds by the naked eye without the use of any binoculars, scope or camera. A very special talent indeed.

Happy Birding, Jane

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