I belong to a bird club. This is not news, lots of people enjoy birding with others because, as my friend France says, “more eyes=more birds.” (See her blog at Bird Tweets at http://birdstring.blogspot.com/ )
The Caloosa Bird Club was founded a long time ago (1958) in Lee County, Florida. Every Monday morning members meet at a pre-arranged spot. High on caffeine, many of us have been up before dawn. We quietly creep out of our homes loaded down with binos, scopes, water, sunscreen, hats, notebooks and iphones (with birding apps). Anticipation is in the air. It keeps us going–who knows what we might see and hear? For a birder, that’s key–we live now but there’s always tomorrow.
This particular Monday in November one of our leaders was Vince McGrath, one of the best birders in Southwest Florida. Vince is a master naturalist and has been watching birds since he was 12. He’s now in his 50s and has not slowed down or lost his enthusiasm. He can whistle many bird songs and recognizes chips and churps that the rest of us ignore. He keeps one eye on the trees, another on the beach and a third on the sky. And he walks fast, sometimes urging folks to keep quiet and walk faster. This trip there are 25 of us.
We looked for birds in an area called Little Estero Lagoon on Ft. Myers Beach, and headed for lunch around 11:30. We picnicked under a huge strangler oak at the Mound House, a historical site on the Bay Side of the island. The oak is majestic, the shade welcome and there were enough tables for the whole group, plus restrooms. (Such amenities, my friends, are birding heaven.)
As is the club’s custom, we eat and then complete the bird list. Many of us also list individually on ebird, but the club list is kept internally. Each of us has a sheet to check off the birds we’ve all seen. And so we began: “mottled duck, wood stork, magnificent frigatebird…”finishing with the warblers, which are always last. Today, we log mostly shore birds, 52 species overall.
Last, we vote on the Bird of the Day. Vince announces that we “have not yet seen the Bird of the Day. ” In fact, those of us with cell phones have just received texts about a Franklin’s gull on a beach to the south of us , and we speculate that we might be going there, which would be a deviation from club protocol, but possibly worth it. “Yes,” he said, pointing up, “it’s in this very tree…a great horned owl.”
“No,” you’re joking with us,” a member responded, joined by others, who, to our amazement, find we have been sitting directly under the owl. The owl was content to watch with all-knowing eyes, swiveling his head and then taking a snooze. He was big and brown and high in the tree–to a casual observer, just a bunch of leaves or a squirrel nest. But not to Vince, who discovered the owl while he was eating and kept quiet for 15 minutes. Many who know Vince were also amazed that he could keep quiet about a bird for that long!
A great-horned owl at the beach? That was our Bird of the Day. Who knows what we’ll see next? That’s the fun of birding. Our motto: Keep Looking Up
(To watch a video of Vince in action: http://archive.news-press.com/VideoNetwork/1340962393001/Follow-birder-Vince-McGrath-on-the-Christmas-Bird-Count)