Sunday, October 31, 2010

Room with a Limited View

A big number four.

An unanticipated physical detour has kept me off the road to Blogosphere for the past few weeks. It’s reminiscent of that famous statement by Don Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, (and little-known wannabe birder) back in ‘02. Most people thought he was talking about challenges in Iraq, when actually he was reporting on why his Audubon chapter missed seeing a Slatey-back Gull at the Tidal Pool in Washington: “As we know, 
there are known knowns. 
There are things we know we know. 
We also know 
there are known unknowns. 
That is to say, 
we know there are some things 
we do not know. 
But there are also unknown unknowns, 
the ones we don't know 
we don't know.”
Being in the hospital and having a computer and free WiFi (At what this is costing they should toss in WiFi.) is a mixed blessing. Not unlike having grandchildren. Hourly, rather than watch political commercials on a blurry television (It’s not the TV’s fault, my nurse says.) I read through the bird sightings on the Ohio Ornithological Society’s ListServ. I’ve missed Cave Swallows, Red-throated Loons, Red-necked Grebes, Pine Siskins, Snow Buntings and who knows what else.
To compensate, I’ve opted to keep a list of what I see through my limited angle of view, which my nurse calls the window. Rock Pigeon (or is it back to Rock Dove, it’s been so long) seems to be the dominant species. Maybe I should subdivide them into colors or patterns, or both. American Crow is close at number two, with European Starling coming in a distant third. Fourth, with only six entries is Turkey Vulture. There is no number five, yet, but it’s only been four days, so I’m hopeful. You’re bored, says my nurse.
I’ve also been able to give career advice to two young hospital volunteers, called Comfort Runners. We used to call them Candy Stripers. I had a hard time keeping a straight face when they said they were “Comfort Runners” and was there anything they could do for me. Anyway, we chatted and it turns out they’re sophomores in college. One was actually thinking of heading down the path to Journalism. I told her to run down some other path if she wants comfort in the future. Forty years of experience, ya know.
One of the aides caught me standing next to the window this evening, looking longingly at the sunset while trying to run up the numbers of my Hospital Window Life List. She made some joke about the windows being locked so I could forget about trying to escape. Had I known being hospitalized would be so much fun I would not have waited 68 years for the experience.
The good news is that Susan reports that we had our first Purple Finch of the winter season yesterday at the home feeder. I missed it, too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

In the ancient, now-defunct language of the Wiggidy Warriors, a tribe that inhabited the entire globe at one time, the word “birding” meant, “expect the unexpected.” The elders of the tribe would take youngsters aside and quietly tell them, “When you’re out hunting for truth and goodness in the evil world, and you hear hoof beats, think of horses, not zebras. However, to be successful you must always bird.”
So it was yesterday, another day when striped bass were no place to be found in New England, when what was required was a good book, a glass of wine, a relatively comfortable chair and a stunning view of Ipswich Bay, that the unexpected, which I should have expected, happened.
Here’s what happened I think before the first glass of wine was finished: According to various charts, tables and reports from unbiased sources, 4:25 p.m. was supposed to be the prime fishing time of the day, sun would pop out, wind would drop to zero and fish would leap from the water, dying to, well, die. I had already proven that the preceding three hours of the morning, also listed as excellent, were definitely not prime time. I was, I thought, finished fishing for the day, settled into other activities, thinking about dinner and tomorrow, when I glanced at my watch to see what time it wasn’t—precisely 4:25 p.m. So why not take another stab at it, I thought.
As I unloaded my butt from the comfort of the Adirondack chair in search of my rod, I spotted what I thought was a Northern Mockingbird, a quite common creature in these part, on the fence rail. I mentioned it to Susan, she deep into a novel, glanced up, confirmed my sighting—and shot me that look as if to say, “We’re reading, here!”
There was something wrong with this bird, however. I mentioned I’d never noticed how yellow the mockingbird’s beak is. Then it hit me, those words of wisdom from the ancient, lost tribe of Wiggidy Warriors, “Expect the unexpected.”
“Whoa,” says I, “that’s a Yellow-billed Cuckoo!” which was more than enough to pull Susan (vertically) from her book about girls with tattoos kicking hornets’ nests or something, binoculars from under chairs and cameras from backpacks.
Later, I happened to be checking the dictionary of the Wiggidy Warriors and noted that another definition of “birding” is: “Sometimes you just get lucky.”

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Better and Better

Northern Gannet

It was a dark and stormy morning. Fishing remained out of the question with rain and winds hitting 40 mph. Not that I didn’t have better things to do, I was fixing a balking toilet when I heard Susan yelling about something on the rock. Then I heard plenty of running from downstairs, coupled with plenty of door slamming by her and our friend, Ciba, who owns the house where we’re currently mooching a vacation stay. (Toilet repair is one way of paying back—and paying forward.)

Northern Gannet

I dashed downstairs to see a gorgeous Northern Gannet perched on the rocks in front of the house. This is one of those birds we see often enough, usually hundreds of yards away. This guy, too, was seeking shelter from the storm.
There’s that threadbare adage about silver linings … blah, blah. I prefer to think of it as good karma, generated by fixing friend’s toilets.

Northern Gannet

Monday, October 04, 2010

Some Days Are Just Better

Black-bellied Plovers

As Lance Armstrong says, “There are no bad days. Some days are just better than others.” Ain’t that the truth?
I was hyped up for this fishing trip to the Atlantic Coast. I had (make that have) boxes of hand-tied flies of my own design, my new hand-built rod for saltwater fishing and more ways to figure tidal movement than the U.S. Navy. Of course, the one thing no one can control is the weather. When I got up this morning to fish the incoming tide, the storm that had started the night before still raged. Winds were a steady 35 knots with gusts beyond belief. And rain. Fly fishing would be confined to magazine pages this day.
Well, with gourmet coffee, a good book and the love of my life beside me, I settled into a pleasant morning. Then we noticed movement in the granite boulders 100 feet in front of us. A flock of migrating Black-bellied Plovers had taken refuge in the nooks and crannies of the rocks. Braving the elements (which is a bit of an overstatement) I captured an image of these birds whose mental state best reflected my own, except that I had coffee.
And when I was about to head back for the house, a flock of 50 Common Eiders passed by. No shelter necessary for these huge sea ducks. Storm? What storm? Bring it!

Common Eiders