More on Rhode Island

Boy, can I tell I'm deadline this week. I'm finding all kinds of distractions between You Tube and Bird Forum. Why is it that when I have plenty of time, I want to do anything but the work I need to do? It's not like the work isn't fun--I'm enjoying the heck out of working on this Audubon Minnesota River birding finding guide. I think I like the magic and sweat of last minute work. Mark, if you're reading this, don't freak out. I'll make that deadline.

The weekend in Rhode Island was filled with mostly meetings and wasn't intended to be a big birding trip. But Clay found a way Sunday morning to allow us to not only sleep in, but get an hour's worth of great birding ...

Holy crap, a Cooper's hawk just tried to pop a crow outside my window--sweeeeet.

...sorry for the bird interruption of this entry. Anyway, Clay took us to Beavertail Park for a quick look at some seabird specialties. It was very windy and the ocean was crashing on the rocky coast. But out beyond that we could see scoters, gannets, harlequin ducks, eiders, gulls and even a red-throated loon! When we arrived, Clay whipped out a case of Swarovaki binoculars and asked us to pick a pair to play with. I chose the 8x32 ELs. To quote Ferris Bueller, "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. "

I finally got to see gannets for the first time on the pelagic trip during the ABA Convention in Maine this past June. You could make them out in the distance as they flew by. At Beavertail, I got AMAZING looks. I took this with my new Fuji E900 as if flew by and that doesn't do my view justice. Also, since I wasn't on a boat going up and down, I was able to really savor the gannet with binoculars. We even got to watch the gannets do their spectacular dives in the water. Here's an extreme example from the movie Winged Mirgration (it's one minute and 34 seconds long):

We didn't see that many birds but the few saw dive were really cool.

I wanted to give digiscoping with my new camera a try. I had hoped to do it with the harlequin ducks, but they were really out there. The eiders were much closer and larger targets to practice on. I'm still trying to get the hang of all the bells and whistles on the Fuji, but I was excited at the early results.

Here we have a herring gull creeping up on a male common eider. The eiders dive down into the water after fish and the herring gulls lurk nearby to try and steal the eider's catch. Darn gulls, don't mess with the pretty sea ducks!

I big part of the fun this weekend was meeting some new birders and some hunters. I love hanging out with hunters. I met a woman named Gray Farnsworth and she was awesome. She hunts everything from deer, to wild boar to ducks. She enjoys the challenge of bow hunting the best. I asked her if this was something she learned from her father and she said, "No, I'd never been hunting a day in my life. When I turned 35, I felt I needed to kill something."

Some days, I can totally relate to that.

There's something about sharing stories with hunters that is very different than hanging with birders and I don't mean the obvious difference between that activity is to watch and the other is to kill. I remember once years ago being on a field trip in Detroit Lakes. The bus full of birders was heading back after a long day in the field of watching great birds. I was tired and zoning out while I listened to conversations around me. Kenn Kaufman was a few seats away talking about his first draft of Kingbird Highway (the story of how he left high school early and hitchhiked his way across the country to see as many birds as possible in a year). Kenn was talking about how macho the first draft of the book was since he wrote it from a young man's perspective and how we went back and retooled it a bit when he was older.

I started to think of all the male birders I had ever met and none of them qualified as macho. I had a Homer Simpson moment of saying the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet when I announced, "I don't think I've ever met a macho bird watcher."

All male eyes within earshot fell on me. I suddenly realized what I said out loud and the men weren't thrilled with what I said. I'm sure knew they weren't macho, they just didn't want it pointed out.

Hunters are very confident in what they do. Male hunters are macho and it's fun to hang around that manliness for awhile. Even Gray with her cute street clothes had a confidence that is evident in any hunter I have ever met. They know who they are, they know what they can do and there is a power in that. We had a great time sharing stories on a level we could relate to: the serenity of being out the woods or a quiet lake and finding strength in that, the excitment of sneaking up on quarry, a desire to maintain habitat so the creatures we love will be here now and for future generations, and an appreciation for the taste of pheasant.

Here's a photo of some of our group. Of these three men, can you tell the birders from hunters?