They were loud, almost obnoxious neighbors. When we slept with the windows open to catch the gentle summer breeze they were the last thing we heard each evening and the first raucous greeting each dawn. But now they are gone, without even a neighborly adieu, and I admit to missing them already.
There are three Osprey platforms along our shore and each hosts a successful breeding pair every summer. The parents, new fledglings, and yearlings certainly created an interesting summer on San Domingo Creek this year, learning to fly, fish, and chase away the bullying Fish Crows. But now they’re all gone and the quiet is eerie.
Other quieter cast members have also left the stage, exit south. I refer to the Eastern Kingbirds, whom the permanent resident Northern Mockingbirds allowed to breed beside the cove, and the related Barn and Tree Swallows who breed under the dock and in the Bluebird houses. Any day now they will be replaced by large noisy flocks of migratory Canada Geese and a new cacophony will begin. Alas, another season has passed.
My birding has evolved, and not necessarily for the better. It’s been a long time, since Norway in May, for me to purposely set out on a birding excursion. You know the drill; an early AM start armed with binoculars, camera with telephoto lens, guide book or cell phone, bug spray, sun protection, etc.
I may have become a victim of the eBird challenge for us to bird continuously, submitting daily lists of sightings as we go about our non-birding lives. Their intentions at Cornell are laudable, trying to expand the world-wide data base of birds to assess population trends and birds at risk. But I think I may have carried this all too far.
The eBird app makes it too easy (http://www.ebird.org). We went out for a seafood dinner along the Tred Avon River with a large group and I secured a waterside seat so I could clandestinely count the cormorants and gulls between bites. No one knew. One of my favorite personal locations is a comfortable hammock strategically positioned in the back yard between a feeder and birdbath. The chickadees, finches, and hummingbirds hardly notice me there unless I snore and drop the iPhone. I even got a few ticks through a hospital window during a brief illness last January.
eBird got serious about these daily tabulations last January when they announced the “Checklist-A-Day Challenge”. Submit your daily sightings all year long, even if a session is as short as 3 minutes, and be eligible to win a set of Zeiss binoculars on December 31. More importantly you contribute to a valuable growing database of birds. I started the year on a roll, 133 straight days of sightings, but then life intervened. Not to worry, you just need an average of 1 list per day and there are still 97 days left in 2019 to make up the deficit.
We recently took two short non-birding trips that allowed me to squeeze in a few observations. One was to a spectacular family wedding at Chicago, Lincoln Park. The joy of seeing my nephew and his beautiful bride begin their lives together, and seeing the satisfaction and celebration of the supporting families and friends overshadowed even the birds. But I did count some on the shore of Lake Michigan and during an architectural tour on the Chicago River, whose flow, by the way, was remarkably reversed by engineers in 1900.
The other trip was to Upstate New York, my native stomping ground. To the New York City crowd, anything north of the Tappan Zee Bridge is called “upstate”. The rest of us know that the true upstate is Syracuse, Rochester, Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Skaneateles, and countless other small towns nestled among the rolling hills, wineries, and the Finger Lakes. The residents here even sound different than the big city folks. I don’t believe there is a more beautiful and comfortable place anywhere in the summer. But forget the winters.
It was another chance for some soft core birding while we became reacquainted with family and friends. My sister has maintained and restored the old summer cottage that my Dad and Mom bought on Keuka Lake in 1956, and my brother has recently relocated just down the road. We had dinner with the same next door neighbors that I knew in the 1950’s, now with several generations of offspring all returning to their homestead each year, similar to those migrating Osprey.
I’m the only birder in the family, so for one week the old feeder is dusted off and filled with sunflower seeds. It only takes a few hours for the chickadees and finches, to find the cache. I’m particularly pleased with the nuthatches climbing the trunks of the ash and pines near the back door. We have Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks, and Common Mergansers on the lake, all new since my childhood days when we only saw Mallards. There even was an Osprey fishing near the shore, apparently just as happy with the freshwater sunfish and bass as their more common salt water catch.
The last stop in Upstate was Ithaca, the home of dear friends and also the famous Sapsucker Woods and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I can “blame” them for my list-a-day craze, but Cornell and their brain child eBird have seriously revolutionized birding.
Their data, even my sightings from the hammock, have documented the loss of 3 billion birds from the U.S. and Canada since the 1970’s, 30% of our total bird population. “More than 90% of the losses are from 12 families including sparrows, finches, blackbirds, and warblers”. But all is not doom and gloom. The water fowl population has grown 56% and raptors are up 200% over the same period. Those ducks and the thriving Osprey families can thank Cornell, dedicated ornithologists, and even lowly eBirders for this revival.