The Birding Valentine

Valentine’s Day slipped by this year in the mist of weeklong sickness and busy schedules. But as the weekend sun rose, so did we, tired and maybe a little grumpy. If we could at least get an hour in, we would be happy. Still, moving away from those warm blankets was hard.

Still, as always happens, during the trek over muddy paths, along wooden boardwalks, and across winter grass fields, time slowed and focused on the now. The usual chill of our bird walks was also lifting, freeing us a bit more. Spring seemed to be in the air. Scores of red-winged blackbirds sang from the trees and the marsh grasses and red-tailed hawks soared in all parts of the sky.DSC_0280

Sometimes we stuck together and sometimes we drifted apart, collecting 18 species, though nothing new. This was unusual. But what could we expect after successful weekend after successful weekend.

To decide if we had anything left in our weary tanks, we stopped in Brant Rock for breakfast. The pink gradually rose in our cheeks. With a few deals here and there, we decided to push on to Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

This time something felt different. New energy thrummed through our veins, especially with Jackson and Fiona. Birding didn’t seem a priority. Rather, running and laughing along the trails and up the meadow hills consumed them. Maura and I followed, still keeping a lookout, but enjoying the moment. Yes, their voices scared some of the feathered ones away. But we went with it. Plus, despite the beautiful day, all but the water birds, including an American Wigeon, seemed to be at rest somewhere.

Eastern BluebirdAt one point, as we descended a hill, a meadow of tall grass and scrub beside us, a sweet song attracted our attention. Soon we caught sight of two birds and were able to follow their swoops with our lenses. As I watched one high up in a tree, another dropped down to a small, dwarf evergreen. It was our first new species in over a week: an Eastern Bluebird.

DSC_0410As we took pictures, Jackson and Fiona scrambled up giant boulders to slide and jump off the other side. The grayer week from earlier also slid aside.

The running and springtime play tired them out in the end and we headed home. But in my mind, I thought that such a day shouldn’t end. So in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day and our birding adventure, I asked Maura if she would like to go back to Daniel Webster for a sunset walk and then dinner.

dsc_0475.jpgLeaving the kids on their own for a couple of hours, we embarked on a trip that would end up being the perfect close to the day. Walking the same trails as the morning, with a red and gold sunset spreading behind us, we felt at ease, taking our time. We could stop and listen for different bird calls, especially for the elusive barred owl. We could stand in the still silence and let the forest and meadows speak to us.

In the swampy woods, both sunset and moon reflected in the shallow water, while the top reaches of trees burned red. The shadows played tricks on us and everywhere we looked we thought we saw the camouflaged owl. But wherever it was, it remained undiscovered, watching.

DSC_0471Out along the meadows, the world was somewhat brighter, so we decided to push into the incoming darkness. Our turnaround point was a lookout onto the marshes and Green River. But most remarkable were the hundreds and hundreds of European Starlings lining the telephone wires and populating a  solitary tree. Their raucous calls disturbed the silence we enjoyed in the woods but conjured up other magic in its place. Explosive waves of flight and return cycled before us, feather on air beating loudly. And as they settled one last time, we turned to the river.

DSC_0478The moon now claimed more of the sky and we walked side by side through the tall grasses and onto the bridge. The dark water gleamed silver on one side and gold on the other.

Through the swamp and back into the open field, we walked a half mile in darkness, the moon highlighting just enough of the path for a safe return.

Warm dinner and drinks awaited us at one of our favorite restaurants, Hola.

To many, this would have been the perfect ending of a unique Valentine’s celebration. However, the uniquity would rise again with the sun as Maura and I snuck off to Duxbury beach in the first rays of light, in search of the snow bunting, tiny flits of camouflage hiding in the sand and scrub.

Despite the icy wind, we took our time and worked together, keeping lookouts in DSC_0487different directions. The buntings remained invisible, but other birds began appearing on the bay side. And eventually, two new species were revealed: an Iceland gull and a red-throated loon.

Walking toward the Powder Point Bridge, extremities frozen, I felt a deeper warmth carrying me forward. These twenty-four hours had been the best Valentine hours ever. And from sunrise to sunrise, from bird to bird, I felt the blanket of my family and wrapped it closer around me.

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