Oh… to be 17 again and a couple months away from graduation! I pulled the yearbook off the shelf today while cleaning and realized it’s (yikes!) twenty years since I finished high school… where’s the time gone? What happened to that girl with the open, easy smile? What ever happened to the two hoodlums that were in that art class with me?
I don’t think you could pay me enough to go back to high school or to see most of the people I graduated with. I’d bet it’s that way for most of us. College was a much happier time, I think. I wasn’t nearly as awkward or as shy and I was able to enjoy the beginnings of adult freedom without any of its responsibilities. I’d always had a job or two, but no bills to pay; lots of schoolwork, but plenty of time to pay attention to it; my choice of fun diversions – days at the beach, concerts in the city, a summer in Spain – all that freedom and all along I was in such a hurry to be grown. Seems silly now that I didn’t realize how good I had it then.
Truth be told… it’s pretty good now. Funny, though, to look at that old pic of me (having one almost-good-hair-day in my 37 years!) and see how clueless I was. That, somehow, is the biggest benefit of youth… being oblivious.
I got to perch like a bird at street light height today to photograph Red Bank’s centennial parade. Red Bank’s not my hometown, but I spend enough time there and feel like I know just about everyone, so it feels like home to me.
There were politicians and dozens of firetrucks with their sirens wailing, girl scouts and church groups. And clowns. I liked the clowns best. This was the closest thing to a marching band – don’t high school bands do parades anymore?
Besides the clowns, there were people in funny hats waving and smiling in great old-fashioned cars like celebrities. Small town life… fun!
The firemen were very happy cause their trucks were shiny and they got to play with the lights and sirens without having to rush off to save anyone.
Firemen smile much more easily than policemen do. Ever notice that? He’s my friend and I still couldn’t get a smile out of him! Jeez… definitley not in a parade state of mind.
Part of the fun of a parade and a camera is the opportunity to take random pictures of friendly strangers with funny t-shirts.
Marching through town with an audience on the sidewalk seems to bring out the charisma in some people… this trowel-waving garden club lady was hilarious! She and her cohorts take care of the summer plantings in the downtown area.
The kids in the parade had a ball.. though I wondered how some of the little ones managed to last the whole distance of the parade… it was at least an hour long and snaked from the river on the east side of town to a picnic at a park on the west side.
Tomorrow the fun continues with a boat parade on the river, but I have to miss that for a surprise party.
On World Series day, we spent the hours around dusk at North Pond; the others were mostly looking at birds, but I was watching the clouds.
It had been overcast all day, but the sky began to clear in the late afternoon and some of us stood around appreciating that nice light cast on a Canada Goose floating on the pond while we looked for a bittern… on the beach plum and scotch broom and cypress spurge blooming in the dunes. A beautiful place to end a long day.
With the chasing mostly over and the last of the death marches done (I skipped the last one and missed 12 Piping Plovers!) we were hoping then for just a couple night herons, or nighthawks, or woodcock, or owls… we relaxed and found a rock or old fencepost to sit on. Gradually the stories began…
Birders have great stories, you know. Many of us have traveled to interesting far-flung places (not me!) and oftentimes we travel with the same people. Even if we’ve not birded together, there’s a certain easy camaraderie among most birders that feels really nice. Of course, after 12+ hours together on a big day, we tend to get a bit silly and punchy from the lack of sleep/food/caffeine, but that just adds to the fun.
When you consider that our team will have raised at least $3500 for conservation causes, and that’s small potatoes compared to most of the other 100 or so teams, I guess it’s easy to understand why I like doing it so much. Great birds, good friends, great stories, a good cause…
Plus, we ended the day with nighthawks and a barred owl. What more could you ask for?
A handsome bird who put on quite a show… a treat in spring and not anything I thought I might chance upon so easily. I’m not a lister, really, but I do try to keep some record of what I’ve seen and where, if it’s significant. The longer one spends paying attention to birds, the harder it is to come upon new ones, so that makes each a bit more significant that way. It wasn’t so much about seeing this new-to-me-bird as it was about enjoying the moment with others who were as excited with it as me, or appreciating how nice he looked against the blooming beach plums and flitting in and out of the poison ivy brambles. Janet and I spent a long time looking at him after the others had moved on to the next bird.
Warblers in spring are like a prize for us birders, you know? Imagine if all birds were so colorful and charming and active… I think the world would be full of birdwatchers… who could resist? These birds are the reward for the dead days of June and July, or the late summer days spent on a salt marsh fighting greenhead flies for a chance at a southbound shorebird or the winter days in a biting wind looking at ducks with tears streaming down your face. If only it were easier to take a beginner into the woods on a spring day and have them see these gems of the bird world!
Before I started learning about birds, before I was aware of them, I couldn’t have imagined the chance of anything so beautiful. It makes me wonder how others can miss it… do you do that? Wonder how the rest of the world is able to not see such beauty? Not hear their sweet spring songs? What does the rest of the world do with a day in May?
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.
It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,
sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,
their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.
The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time
to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.
The flock thickens
over the rolling, salt brightness. Listen,
maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,
but it must be done, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide
is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,
gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.
It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.
It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,
you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.”
I feel myself so fortunate to have the company of terns to waste a few hours with. Like sanderlings on the beach in fall and winter, the terns have a rhythm to their movements, appropriate to the season and my mindset somehow, that lets me wander to the most playful of places.
Watching them is something of a seduction; my sense of time is lost to the lullaby of the rising tide… there in the glare of the bay is a promise and I sit and watch it becoming. My eye falls on the pilings and wonders at their history… are there treasures hidden below or ruins? The sky is almost too big and the sun too bright to take in all at once, so I follow this one bird dipping in and out of glare and shadow, in and out of water and air, suspended, finally, somewhere between hope and reality.
“Terns” by Mary Oliver
Just when I start believing that he’s very smart and well-trained… he’s learned to retrieve his own collar and leash from the table when we let him out of his crate to go pee… he does something incredibly pupply-like and stupid. The other morning I stepped out of the shower to find him sprawled on the couch eating a bar of Neutrogena soap, wrapper and all! You know the nice soap, from a hotel, that was sitting in a bag on the top of my desk? Right. He retrieved it.
He eats rocks… why should I be surprised that he’ll eat soap, too!
World Series Day is primarily about birds for many, but for me it’s also a chance to get together with all the friends I bird with at some point during the course of a year.
2008 was the 10th year of the Sandy Hook Century Run and I’ve managed to have a part in each of those ten years. The first year it poured rain the whole day and was awful and I swore I’d never do it again! We’ve not had such awful weather since, thank goodness, but it does take a certain type of person to subject themselves to a full 18 hours straight of birding. This is about half of our team of 32 – others arrived later than our 5:30 am start or left before our 9 pm finish – but we ended with many of these 16 or so listening to a Barred Owl calling somewhere off in the distance.
Some of us are very serious and persistent in looking for birds… others not so much. I tend to fall into the latter category, enjoying instead the chance to chat and look at the clouds and generally goof off. My friend Lou is one of those “very serious birder types” and found our day Surf Scoters lazing on the bay… he’d moved away from NJ about 5 years ago, but appeared yesterday and I was so happy to see him again. We’d birded together on Sunday mornings at Sandy Hook for years before he moved away.
We all recognize that fabulous smile… Patrick from The Hawk Owl’s Nest was one of four co-leaders for the day. If you want to read a proper report of our big day, one that focuses on the birds we saw, read his post and have a look at the Cape May Warbler that was probably THE bird of the day for many and a lifer for me.
Some of us are more willing to go the distance to find birds and Patty is that… she trudged through water and marsh at the salt pond at North Beach in hopes of scaring up something good for us to see… this Canada Goose pair wasn’t so happy about the intrusion.
It was a slow day for migrants and that left time to pay attention to other things on the coast. At Plum Island we found a good number of horseshoe crabs wrong-side-up on the shore of the bay and Susanna and others methodically righted each crab to free them back to the water.
Sometimes, especially mid-day when one is inclined to be cranky and feel especially sleep-deprived, it’s nice to just walk along the bay and appreciate the sand and the sun. I took this pic of Gail and then joined her.
Part of what’s especially nice about being part of a “Century Run” team is that we needn’t be quite so serious or competitive about finding birds… we can have fun and just enjoy the day and each other’s company. We are sometimes serious, though, like when the group marched in line through the field at K Lot at North Beach to find sparrows… there was this mouse-like bird that we’d hoped would become a Grasshopper Sparrow, but I’m not sure we ever made that ID.
Janet and I became fast friends as volunteers at the bird observatory a couple years ago and we had a very serious role to play in this year’s World Series. A couple years ago she and I found the very rare Eurasian Collared Dove on World Series Day (totally by accident!) and so were the designated spotters for the almost-as-rare White-Winged-Dove that had been found at Sandy Hook a couple days ago. We never found it yesterday, but we kept each other going and laughing throughout the day. When the rest of the team went on a second “death march” to the salt pond, she and I stayed behind at the hawk watch to appreciate the view and keep an eye out for any odd-looking doves.
A Century Run team accepts birders of all ranks… the beginner, the wanna-be, the lazy, the expert-who-needn’t-make-the-death march-because he’s seen everything! Rich Kane held a comfy chair at K Lot while we marched to the salt pond.
During lunch at Spermacetti Cove we had the chance to spot a few birds for the youth team from the Newark Museum… kids… almost excited about birds… imagine that! Sandy Hook was only one stop of many for their team. They were a great group to meet and I hope they did well for their efforts.
Scott from SHBO is the main energy behind the team and is a generally good guy. Great birder, excellent storyteller and seen here trying to rescue a horseshoe crab from fishing line tangles. He had me in stitches at the end of the day telling stories about trips to North Dakota, finding dead bodies while birding… you name it and Scott has a story for it.
We ended the day with 117 species… not bad… a respectable number, I’d guess. For me the nicest part was the chance to bird with so many friends.