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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Top 10 Birding Days of the Year

I do not have a good memory. I can hang out with a person and talk to them all night, but chances are I won't remember their name or what we talked about once they come back from the bathroom. It's just the way it is.
Birding, though, has been different. Of the 199 species I've seen this past year (again, my birding year started 3/21/05...and NOTE: I've seen 194 eastern species and 5 western species, so I'm gonna cheat a little and say 199 total so that I can maybe get to 200 this weekend. That's ok right?), I have a crystal clear picture in my mind of where I saw each, regardless of how brief the encounter. First Brandt? Alone on the rocks at the backside of Biddeford Pool. Yellow Warbler? Darting among bushes on the edge of a field at Montezuma NWR. Hooded Merganser? In a small pond off Route 27 near New Portland, Maine. I can't remember the names of half the people I work with, but I can remember my first Merlin or Wilson's Warbler in precise detail.

So now, in honor of a year of these little memories, let me begin counting down my top 10 birding experiences.

#10 - Indian River Inlet, Delaware. 12/4/2005

I had made the drive from DC to Delaware a month earlier to look for Snow Geese and other waterfowl at Bombay Hook and had fallen in love with the state. Previously, I had known Delaware only because a) my ex-girlfriend's parents went to college there and b) the "Hi. I'm in Delaware" joke from Wayne's World. Driving through, however (and I guess I'm talking about Delmarva in general), was incredibly pleasant. The country is very flat, but lush and busy. The small towns were unpretentious...free of the burden of tourism that has forced many coastal towns in my homestate of Maine to fight each other for "Most antique shops and lobster shacks per square mile" (even though the average Mainer eats about lobster probably once a year...and only when friends from out of town are there).

So, anyway, I slipped into Delaware like a soft shirt and took Route 1 (my favorite road, my mom lives on it in Falmouth, Maine) along the coast south to the Indian River. After Dewey Beach the road rides out on a strip of land you could throw a stick across, separating the Atlantic from Rehoboth Bay. About a half-hour down and you've hit the bridge over the Indian River. Birds, which I didn't with great frequency along the drive, were suddenly everywhere. Gulls following fishing boats, geese, sea ducks crowded at the mouth. I got all excited, as birders do when they find a wealth of birds, and franticly looked for a way to get off the road (which was no easy task because of extensive construction work on the bridge). I made it to the southern side of the bridge and took my first left into what looked like an abandoned flea market. The gates were chained, so I drove cautiously to the end of the point where a cluster of houses sat. It's not usually advisable to park among houses, but I could see hundreds of gulls in the bay and needed to stop. I was surprised to see Boat-Tailed grackles resting of the roof of a house, and indeed they are very common around the inlet. The gulls were too far away to identify, so I drove back across the bridge to a parking lot for fishermen.

Once on the other side, I walked along the sidewalk and under the bridge to the Atlantic side. There were over a hundred Brandt in a fenced off area, the most I had seen in one place to that point (and apparently there was a black Brandt among them...too bad I didn't even know what a black Brandt was!). There was a steady stream of birds flying under the bridge to and from the ocean, including my first Forester's Terns. Walking cautiously out on the jetty, there were ruddy turnstones and my first purple sandpipers, all of which were unafraid and allowed for great pictures.

Looking out at the Atlantic from the tip of the jetty I saw my greatest surprise: gannets. Probably a hundred of them, all doing their classic knifing dive-bombs into the surf. Amazing. I watched them for probably a half-hour, and even showed their picture and lent my binoculars to a Korean man (who spoke no English) fishing near me on the jetty. It was such a great feeling, freezing cold, wet and windy yet triumphant in finding birds that I had never seen, that I needed to share it with someone, whether he understood me or not.
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