It seemed like perfect timing: Cornell Lab and eBird’s Global Big Day and our family nearing the 200 mark. With the right weather, location, and timing it seemed like that big number could be met.
First was location. After much research with our birding friend, we decided on two very different locations: Burrage Pond in Hanson, Massachusetts, and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
Proposed time: 6:30 in the morning start with 90 minutes at Burrage. An hour drive to Mout Auburn and linger until lunch.
Weather: Not optimal. Low, heavy clouds with some drizzle.
Still, we were optimistic as we pulled into the small gated road of Burrage Pond and set out on the path.
A good omen was the almost constant flight path of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.
Then within a few short minutes, we saw our first Yellow Warbler.
But soon the woods and waterways went silent and we walked with only a few calls of blue jays in the distance. Then came the teacher, teacher of the Ovenbird and the drink your tea of the Eastern Towhee. Soon after Fiona caught sight of a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, something I had been hoping to see for a long time and missed again.
And as we neared the edge of a larger pond, scores of Ring-Necked Ducks floated by. Though these weren’t new to us, they had become more infrequent and rare for the season.
Every turn and rise, we expected to see something else. But the bird world seemed sparse.
Finally, as we began our return to the car, walking over pits of sand, two flutters caught our eyes. First was an American Tree Sparrow. Then, more astonishing, was the yellow and gray of a Nashville Warbler. We felt the coolness of yet another wet day drain away. There was still hope.
But that would be it at Burrage. Somewhere, still hiding from us, were the Glossy Ibises, the Caspian Tern, and the American Bittern. I had so hoped to hear that bizarre oong-KA-chunk sound, like a stone in water, of the Bittern.
An hour later, we arrived at Mount Auburn Cemetery. And five minutes after that, we found ourselves on Indian Ridge, alongside many other birders watching bird after bird hop and flit through the trees. Within 15 minutes, we had seen a Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-Headed Vireo, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Northern Parula, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole, and a Blue-Throated Green Warbler! It was incredible and a little neck-breaking.
For the next hour, we found other birds new to our list, including the striking Blackburnian Warbler, as well as older species always fun to catch sight of. The day seemed to be at an end when we approached our car and nearly missed the Hermit Thrush sitting on a post a yard away.
Now, I said it seemed like it was over. But on the drive home, we decided to push for more. This time our stop would be closer to our neighborhood at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield.
The clouds had begun to disperse and the sky became a deep blue. Unfortunately, the sun was also starting to go down. But in a meander around the grounds, we came across a Least Flycatcher and some Purple Martins. We had hoped that our friend would be able to get a glimpse of both the Sora and the Sandhill Crane we had found the week before. However, both had either moved on or hidden in the grasses.
The day ended with a remarkable 75 species and 8 new ones, getting us oh so close to the 200.
Now skip forward two days and two more new birds (Spotted Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper) and I find myself in the backyard of the school I work at. The day before, Jackson had reported seeing both a Baltimore Oriole and an Orchard Oriole at recess. As I walked the ground, camera strapped on just in case, I could hear the unmistakable calls of the Baltimore Oriole mixed with something slightly off. I kept following the sound until I saw a blaze of orange. Trying to find where it went, I looked up into a tall evergreen and saw what seemed like a darker than usual American Robin. But this robin was missing its usual yellow beak and white under its tail. Eventually, I was able to zoom in and snap a few pictures. I had just gotten proof of the Orchard Oriole.
Then, on the way back up the hill, I saw a flutter of something small: a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, at last.
Later in the afternoon, as the school was assembled outside, a large Broad-Winged Hawk circled the school ceremony.
Suddenly, I felt like birds were coming to us instead of us going in search of them.
That’s when the real magic began to happen.
By this time, we had only six more birds until we would get to 200, fifty-six away from our annual goal.
Remembering how all of the warblers looked like the same tiny, dark shadows among the Mount Auburn Cemetery trees, I decided to try my luck in the woods behind our house.
Ducking and twisting through thorns and past poison ivy, through oaks, maples, and holly, I headed toward the slow-moving brook we hoped to explore by kayak soon. I thought this might have some potential. As I slipped under the canopy, I heard new calls and songs and spied multiples shadows high in the treetops.
Standing still, I tried to train the lens on one of the shadows. Eventually, I captured an image I’d seen earlier that weekend at Mount Auburn: the bluish gray and yellow of a Northern Parula. Soon after that, I began to recognize its rising buzzy trill. Followed by the Parula, were other birds I never had to leave my backyard to see. Scrambling along the trunk of a tree was the Black-and-White Warbler. In a bush near the brook was a Yellow-Rumped Warbler. In another scrabble of brush, danced a Common Yellowthroat, and what I thought was another Black-and-White ended up being a Blackpoll Warbler.
The woods were alive with birds of colorful feather and music, birds I never thought existed out there, all of them invisible until that moment.
And as I exited the woods and walked out onto the lawn, a pair of Baltimore Orioles called to each other.
Further in the sky, something else zipped by. That zip was followed by others, until it appeared as a swarm of birds swooping and diving. They were Chimney Swifts!
In less than 30 minutes and a few hundred feet, I had seen many of the same birds I had seen in the past week and miles away. And to top it off, another Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher landed on the treehouse.
As the rest of my family heard about the treasures in the woods, they began to make their own excursions, bringing back new finds, including an American Redstart and a Magnolia Warbler.
There seemed no end to the magic.
And by the end of the week, in the next town over, during his baseball game, Jackson discovered, while playing right field, our 200th bird: a Scarlet Tanger. Luckily no hits came his way at that time.
Basically, with all our travels, totaling now more than 7,000 miles, we had learned that sometimes staying home is just as much as an adventure and that it’s not always a chase. In fact, 65% of the birds we have found so far were within a 100-mile radius of our home. And 25% have been seen from our backyard.
Sometimes, you can just wait for the magic to come to you.