Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

BIRDING

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Snow geese

Early on a November Sunday.

The sun had melted the frost that came by night and the remaining moisture hung in a haze over the Sound. The grass was still green. A few leaves, drained of colour remained on the trees. The day started out warm and comfortable. It was a typical ‘British Morning’. So says Peter, our guide for the day.

I am here looking out over Owen Sound with Birders from the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Now, I am not a birder. Far from it. But, I am outside, under an unbelievable blue sky, in the company of people who find staring at waterfowl from a distance, fascinating. They come armed with books; binoculars and spotting scopes, which make birding, look like a very expensive hobby.

As the day, progresses, and we scoot from location to location, literally circling the Sound from one shore to another searching for different species of ducks, geese and biggest genus of sea gull in the world…I am impressed. I am impressed with the fine points of difference between ducks and greater and lesser geese recently arrived, thanks to the shift in jet stream, from different parts of Canada’s north.

And there were firsts for me as well. I saw pure white Snow Geese for the first time. I had never seen Snow Buntings before. They’re big. And their winter plumage gives them hawk-like colouring. Across from the grain elevators on the foreshore just in front of the weeds a Great Blue Herron stood silent as a sentry.

Its regal head turned slowly as if watching me watching it through the binoculars. It too, is big.

I learned that is it OK to talk, but softly, as you approach birds sitting close to shore. You won’t spook them this way. They know you’re not a threat if they hear and see you. Why? Because predators move swiftly and silently.

I learned that birders never stop birding. A prime example of this happened on Grey Road One as we drove past Cobble Beach. Peter, from the open window in the lead vehicle, frantically waving and pointing skyward, suddenly pulled off the road. We scrambled to follow suit without a long rear-ender. He jumped out and ran from car to car. There up in the sky, just above us, a Bald Eagle was gracefully riding the wind off Georgian Bay in lazy circles. It must have been a crazy sight to the motorists that zipped by us…14 people with binoculars trained on a dark, white-headed bird who couldn’t care less.

Birders know what to look for and where. They love nature. They love the land. They know what they’re doing. And I would follow them again just to be amazed at a world most of us tend to ignore.

Peter discovered this epitaph on a grave in Suffolk. The author was not recorded but the date was 1560:

The wonders of this world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades:

These I saw.

Look ye also, while life lasts

Good advice.


One Response

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  1. Touching epitaph. I have to agree with your observations about birding. You truly form a special relationship with the land as a birder, and no, you never, ever, stop birding. The amount of near accidents I have caused…

    Seb

    November 10, 2009 at 6:25 AM


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