I just got through watching “The Big Year” again for the umpteenth time. I love to watch this movie, especially the extended version, and typically find it to be quite inspirational for me.
I used to spend every summer with my Grams in a small little community called Ocean Park, Maine, right on the Atlantic Ocean. When I was about twelve, we were out driving somewhere one day, likely getting some fresh corn for supper. My Aunt, who was with us, stopped at the nature center at Scarborough Marsh. We walked up the steps to the observation deck, and a gentleman was viewing birds through his spotting scope. He asked me if I’d like to take a look. I did; I saw a Little Blue Heron, my very first ”recorded” individual, and as they say, the rest is history.
Ocean Park is a five mile square former Chautauqua-Baptist community, and consists of pine forest, marshland, beach and mudflats. It is the perfect place for bird diversity. In the coming summers, I had the run of the Park, observing all kinds of birds all over. In 1976, I started the Ocean Park Bird Club, of which I think there were about five members! Also that year, I contributed to and edited the very first “Birds of Ocean Park” List, which served as a companion to Theodore Wells’ “Plants of Ocean Park.” We never really published it, but made certain the Library had a copy, in addition to others who had an interest at the time.
During these summer periods, my birding was encouraged by two Ocean Park residents, Mrs. Edith Stephenson and Mrs. Genevieve Webb. Mrs. Webb was at the time recognized as the leading local birder, and we would get up at 5:30am to go birding at Scarborough Marsh, Pine Point, and parts of the Park. I think she had a first edition of Peterson’s! I loved going birding with her, and one year we had a rare bird alert Sandhill Crane observed at Scarborough.
Mrs. Stephenson was a very special friend and mentor to me. She owned a home in Ocean Park, and was a year-round resident like Mrs. Webb. Her home was at the very outskirts of the Park, on a dead-end street, and her backyard was marsh. I used to visit her almost every day to view the Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron and Green Heron that would frequent her “yard.” I think I must’ve been one of the very first “digiscopers,” as I used to take photographs of the birds with y Kodak Instamatic through my binoculars. I birded in Maine heavily from about 1974 through about 1978-79, when other things interfered, i.e. life.
During this time, somehow my father became involved with my passion. Birding was one of the only things that he did with me as a child, and he was simply the driver, taking me in the winters to the coast of Massachusetts, specifically the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, aka Plum Island, and to Marblehead and Newburyport, looking for gulls and other winter birds. The most memorable day for me birding at Plum Island was getting to see my favorite bird, the Snowy Owl, and also a rarity, the Tufted Duck, courtesy of other birders who showed me both through their scopes. Plum island was one of my most favorite places to bird. Funny that, once I got my license, I never visited there, it was just with my father. We were there in Newburyport in 1975 when the Ross Gull showed up for several weeks, though I never spotted the rare gull; Roger Tory Peterson was even there for that. And back in the day, there was no internet, eBird or networks especially for teens, so the only way I heard about the bird was through the news.
I didn’t seriously bird from about 1979 through about 1987 or so. Now living on Long Island in New York, I took my birding eastward, heading out to Montauk Point. I discovered a nice little pond called Oyster Pond that I used to hike in to, and here I saw an Avocet one summer, along with the usual Dowitchers, Turnstones and Oystercatchers. I saw a few warblers as well, but really wasn’t all that aware of the spring migration and all it encompassed. Again, during this time, information wears limited and networks tighter than they are today.
Im the fall one year in the mid to late 80’s, I had done some research on migration seasons, and headed south to Cape May for the fall migration. It was simply amazing, with birds everywhere. Warblers, sandpipers and other shorebirds, and hawks… oh the hawks and falcons all over! I also visited Fire Island during that time, and again it was an amazing fall; one day, there were Kinglets all over the grounds, literally lying everywhere, so tightly packed you had to be careful where you stepped. It is part of my fondest birding memories.
I haven’t seriously birded since, till December of last year, when I finally made a commitment to get back to my passion. So a lot is catching up my skills, and now that I am in Ohio, which I swear is like the birding capital of the States, getting used to the best places to go. And within those best places, figuring out where the birds hang out. Thus far, this year has been a wonderful one; 188 individual species observed this year thus far, including one day of 19 individual warblers. I have seen 23 different warblers thus far, my best year for songbirds ever! And though I have had challenges to face along the way, it has been a good year for me, and I have nothing to complain about.
Birding for me is a passion, and also a legacy to my Grams and my Aunt, who got me started in all of it. Last month, due to their legacy, I was able to obtain my greatest desire, a spotting scope, and also top-flight bins, both from Zeiss. And, I am hooping to be able to travel to Ecuador early next year to see the hummingbirds; they’re special, because when I was eight, one landed and sat on my hand.
So that’s the story of my birding life… thus far. I’ve met some wonderful people this year – you know who you are! – and I look forward to continuing my birding well into the future