Are Birders Liars?

 

I mentioned this topic in a past article. My birding friend, Bob, is convinced that many birders are much like golfers, they lie to make themselves look good, especially those birders who keep lists. He believes it is inherent because birders are on the honor system and that leaves it totally open to liars and cheaters.

Has any honor system ever really worked? There have been scandals at West Point for crying (or lying) out loud. I remember that when I was a teacher the “leaders” in education (such sad, sad people) were always trying to figure out a way to have students “share” knowledge as opposed to cheating to get good, or at least passing, grades. None of these impractical ideas worked. Obviously. Did anyone of any intelligence think they would?

Antony in Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, sarcastically said of the murderer of Julius Caesar: “For Brutus is an honourable man; / So are they all, all honourable men—“

Are all birders honourable men and women? Or are some outright or closeted liars?

When you are on a birding walk most birders don’t necessarily see every bird that someone else points out or points to. I certainly don’t see all of them. I probably— to be blunt here—don’t see half the birds everyone is saying they are seeing. “Look, there’s a tufted tit mouse over there!” I put my binoculars to my eyes but the bird zips away like lightning, as do most little song birds. Song birds are the biggest annoyances in birding—beautiful but fast-flying birds that are hard to see at times. (Give me high-soaring raptors any day.)

Okay, I don’t see half of them.

Yet, I wonder how many of my fellow birders are actually just lying about it all? “Oh, yeah, yeah, I see that tit mouse!” Did you really? I mean really?

Many birders keep lists of the birds they see; on a given day, week, month, trip or year and also in areas, countries and continents. Some birders go on “Big Years” where they try to see as many species of birds as they can in a single year. Some birders do a big year restricted to provinces, states, or countries, and some traverse the entire earth.

The American Birding Association states there are 993 species of birds north of Mexico. John Weigel, an extreme birder, saw 783 of these species in 2016. There are a host of “see-ers” throughout the North-of-Mexico birding community. Are any of them total frauds?

Additionally, you don’t have to see the bird to record it on your list—just hearing it counts. Don’t laugh at this; there are plenty of birders who know the songs of almost all the birds they encounter, perhaps some birders know the songs of all the birds in the world. Hey, I recognize a few bird songs, two of which are my parrots sitting to my right in my office as I write this.

As for the big guns in birding, I think these folks are probably honest as they are driven to be the best at what they do and they probably have folks joining them on many of their expeditions.

But what about the rest of us? Are all the birders in my group the South Shore Audubon Society totally honest observers of birds?

So I decided to do a survey to see if honesty would prevail. I would just point up to the tree and say, “I see a Baltimore Oriole up there.” There was no Oriole. I did this several times, naming different birds. Did anyone lie to me and say they saw these missing birds at which I was pointing? No. People just admitted to not seeing the bird.

And what of when others saw birds and pointed? Did anyone flat out say, “I don’t see it.” Yes, quite a few, myself included.

Of course this was not a scientific poll such as the ones that predicted Trump would lose the Presidential race in 2016.

So, my opinion is that while birding does allow for subterfuge, I haven’t actually witnessed any as of yet. If I do I’ll let you know.

[There is an excellent movie titled The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as birders going on a big year. Enjoyable all the way.]

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Wildlife in Your Backyard

 

Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle

It is raining.

My office is three-quarters windows so I am surrounded by nature. Trees and bushes are my landscape.

I see my three squirrel-proof Sky Café bird feeders right over the top of my computer, their roofs dripping the rain away from the seeds, and, yes, some birds are happily eating those very seeds. Don’t let anyone tell you that birds won’t eat in wet weather. I eat in wet weather; you eat in wet weather; birds eat in wet weather.

Which brings me to Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle.

I have wildlife coming and going throughout my property: possums, raccoons, mice, lizards, those damn voles and their holes; in addition to countless squirrels of the grey, black, and rust variety (my wife the Beautiful AP and I once saw a white one). Sometimes we see rabbits too. And birds, species after species of beautiful birds at our feeders, in our bushes and on our trees.

I also have those horrible outdoor cats, some feral, some let out by their owners. Those cats are responsible for the death of over a billion (yes over a billion!) birds a year. I like cats…indoors.

Now, the author Josh VanBrakle is a research forester and he lays out most of what a person needs to know to attract and keep wildlife on private property; from planting native plants; getting rid of invasive species, choosing which trees to plant, where to plant them; how to create and care for a rather large pond of at least half an acre or more.

He even recommends attracting bats to your property to kill off mosquitoes. And bring in the bees in order to pollinate recommended plants (bats help pollinate plants too).

Do I think this is a good book and worthy of a read? Yes, I do, especially if you have the land necessary to put in place his recommendations. Still many of his insights actually do fit those of us whose properties do not live up to the proper size required for a half-acre or more pond. For example, if invasive species of plants have possessed your property, he gives you a step-by-step method for exorcising such demons.

In truth, I do not want to attract deer or moose or bears or bobcats or mountain lions to my property; just birds. I particularly do not want to attract those aggressive, vicious cats.

Wild nature is not so wild as it once was. One of the greatest saviors of our wildlife is, in truth, us. So welcome the wild ones into your civilized life.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and at bookstores.

 

 

 

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

They are high among the woodland giants; at the top terraces of massive trees, and in spindly ones; in those middle terraces that can support the weight of human beings and bears, in dugout crevices and holes, they look out at the forest floor and up into the canopy of leaves; and in bushes and even on the ground scooting about. They are there. You can hear them.

Now listen, listen: birds, birds of every size and type, singing their distinct songs of love; males and, yes, even females, looking to mate, to reproduce, to continue their lines as far into the future as those lines stretched so far into the past.

Birds. Some are nature’s beautiful angels and some are cold-eyed hunters and killers; all singing their songs to attract mates and after mating, to discuss daily living.

We hear their songs as chirps, whistles, and trills; hoots, honks, whinnies and squawks; caws and cackles. Each bird looking to distinguish itself so others of its kind will hunger for them, so others will know they are there.

For human birders the second step in recognizing who hoots who is learning the birds’ songs. There are some birders in our South Shore Audubon Society (on Long Island, New York), who can connect – like that! – with just about whichever bird is making whatever song. Birds listen to bird song but we listen too.

I do not have the ear as of yet. I recognize several songs but most of the charm of the 5 AM cacophony is lost on me. My wife the Beautiful AP isn’t much better at it than I am. Still, we haven’t been at this birding very long and sooner or later we’ll be able to identify some of those singers.

Our guide Joe, a former college biology professor, will stop the troop and point “up there” and “out there,” and say, “What bird is calling?” Slim-as-slim Michael, as new a birder as I am, will answer and he is almost always correct.

While tuning in to the songs of birds, I now hear trills from my mate:

“Scrape your plate and load it in the dishwasher.”

“Don’t come home with a plastic bag! There are canvas bags in the trunk.”

“If you can put your lips on a coffee cup and a wine glass, why do you need a plastic straw for a drinking glass?”

The birds are far more sonorous than this non-feathered creature who chirps to me daily—but the main thing is I’m beginning to listen.

 

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

 

Life, Death and DeBare

 

 

June 3rd was the last Sunday of the South Shore Audubon Society’s Sunday bird walks until these pick up again in late August. We were at the Massapequa Preserve, a beautiful area of woods and lakes and streams with magnificent birds everywhere.

There was also a bicycle event of some kind taking place while we were bird watching and as the bikes whizzed past the 28 of us ambling along the small paths Paul and my wife the Beautiful AP’s voices rang out to the rest of us, “Bike coming! Here comes a bike!” Other voices would lift as well. Those bikes were scary. Indeed.

Paul was somewhat annoyed, “These bikes are supposed to have bells that they ring as they come up to pedestrians. That’s the law. They can kill us. They must have bells!”

He was right, of course; those bikes could kill us. The paths were not very wide. Some of the riders seemed to enjoy almost hitting one or two of us as they whizzed by. (“How many birders did you get today Tim?” “I got me a few, maybe even killed a couple.” “They are really weird people,” said Ben in his multi-colored helmet.)

Perhaps the most illuminating of the events of that day were the two families of Canada geese, both with a “husband” and “wife” ushering their young from the fast-moving stream. Although the geese were not afraid of us, mom and pop kept a close eye on their goslings and us gapers.

I love birding; it’s fun getting out into nature, watching the beauty of beings that can fly. I even like the rabbits and chip monks and the plants and trees and water and the occasional fish you see and…

I am thinking about death and not just death by bicycle.

A former teaching colleague of mine, Mike DeBare, just passed away shortly before this bird walk. Passed to where? Passed to what? Passed to anything at all? Are we actually passing through something or does death just stop us at the dead end which is really nothing, nothing at all?

I liked DeBare. We’d talk now and then, especially if we were on hall duty together. He seemed like a good guy; he was certainly a good teacher; his students liked him, which is a good sign of a good teacher.

I can’t count up on my fingers and toes the number of my former colleagues who have passed because the number of dead far surpasses the number of my digits. Most were my age or younger; some somewhat older, some were close friends, some favored colleagues; and some of these passed colleagues, I really didn’t know well or at all.

I am more aware of death now than ever before in my life. It waits for me like a bike speeding by me along the path on which I am walking.

 

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

Bird Walking and Talking

 

When I tell my friends that I am now a “birder” or, as people used to say, a “bird watcher,” they think I have lost my mind. My wife’s friends think what she is doing is simply wonderful. They will congratulate her on her enthusiasm and love of nature.

My friends? Here’s what they say: “Aren’t those bird people all crazy tree huggers? Aren’t they nuts? Why would you want anything to do with them? Are you nuts?”

Look, the birding community is made up of many different types of people; some are progressive, some liberal, and some conservative. It is a decent cross-section of American society obviously awash with those who care about birds and the environment.

I will admit it clearly; I like birders.

The Beautiful AP and I go on bird walks with our South Shore Audubon Society just about every Sunday from late August to the following June.

The talk is usually about birds that we are seeing and hearing – our guide Joe knows his stuff and is happy to teach us. I am, sadly, the birdbrain in the group. Of course, in the real world of birds a birdbrain can be quite intelligent with a host of parrots including the brilliant Kea, the magnificent African Grey, the Macaw, the Cockatoo, the Amazon, along with your backyard birds such Crows, Ravens and Jays – to name just some of the really bright ones. It is true, if I were a bird I would not be on this list.

But not all talk centers on birds, especially when we are walking and not seeing or hearing a specific bird or species. I have a few birders that I enjoy talking with about other stuff, sometimes trivial stuff, and sometimes earth-shaking stuff.

This moment was trivial: We were at my favorite birding place, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens. The refuge is a study in contrasts. The world of the refuge is nature; lakes, ponds, woods, and a beautiful bay, but off in the distance is the epic city of New York, with skyscrapers trying to scratch the sky. The refuge was only a few miles from Kennedy Airport where planes take off to everywhere in the world.

I was walking with Bob going past the Bay side of the park. Bob is one of my favorites. He has some very funny opinions about the birding population. He thinks “we are like golfers, our scores are not always to be believed.” Birders pride themselves on being honest about the birds they are seeing and cataloguing.

“How much would it take,” I said, “for you to strip naked, call over all the birders here and run into the water up to your neck and then run out letting everyone see you?”

“I don’t know,” he said, seriously thinking about it.

“Ten thousand?” I asked.

“You got it! Ten thousand and I’ll strip, shout to everyone and they can watch me run into and out of the water.”

“How about five thousand?” I asked.

“Then I wouldn’t want to go up to my neck because that water is cold. I’m not one of those polar bear people,” he said.

“You don’t care if everyone laughs at you?”

“I laugh at him,” said his wife. I hadn’t noticed she was standing behind us.

“How about a thousand?” I asked.

“I’ll do it but I will only stand at the shore line. I won’t go in.”

“Will you jump up and down?” I asked.

“This is getting disgusting,” said his wife.

“How much would it be for you?” asked Bob.

“I wouldn’t do it unless the money was really, really big. People would really laugh at me.”

“Who cares?” he said. “At our age what does a little thing matter?”

“Not that,” I said. “It’s because I have gotten really fat. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me. I’ve become the human blob. There is no beauty in me anymore.”

We never did establish a price for me because at that moment a Peregrine falcon was spotted looking at all of us from a nearby tree. Now that is one beautiful bird! It captured our attention and immediately took us from the trivial to the sublime.

Save the Best for Last

 

My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I went bird watching recently at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens, New York. This is my favorite place to go for the variety of birds, and for everything else—the marsh, the lakes, the ponds, the bay, the paths, the forest and the magnificent vistas.

You are in beautiful nature yet, through your binoculars off in the distance, you can see the skyline of Manhattan, which is always a spectacular sight. And since this refuge is quite close to Kennedy Airport you get to see hundreds of planes flying into the sky—mankind’s successful attempt to mimic the birds of the air.

Having gotten out of a 10-day post-New Year’s single-digit deep freeze, it was a relief to escape into 40-degree weather, although along the ocean and wetlands, it was still cold and windy.

We had to sneak into the park; it was closed because of the Federal government’s shutdown. We did a two mile walk on the main path; on our left the salt quarter-frozen bay and on the right the completely frozen freshwater lake.

About a hundred feet into the walk we encountered a young female photographer who was sitting on a bench looking at the bay on the opposite side of which is Far Rockaway.

“Any luck?” asked AP.

“Nothing except some flitters that are too fast to photograph,. They zip into the bushes and vanish,” she said. “Nothing is standing still today. There just isn’t really much to see.”

“Well, good luck,” I said as we walked on.

When we hit the area that had no bushes or trees on either side of the path, the wind whipped us. “So much ice,” said AP, looking over the bay.

“Nothing out there,” I said. Just then high overhead a small flock of Canada geese sailed over our heads. “I wouldn’t want to be a Canada goose,” I said. “Nobody seems to like them.”

“Do you like them?” asked AP.

“Not after stepping in their shit all these years,” I said.

“Remember the ones that were so aggressive at Hall’s Pond? If you didn’t give them something to eat, they attacked you.”

“Even if you fed them,” I said. “They still bit you.”

So we kept walking the path, stopping occasionally to look through our binoculars to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. The Manhattan skyline looked great as did the planes soaring into the air, but that was about it.

“Maybe we will see something in the second half of the walk,” said the Beautiful AP. “Maybe the second half will be good.”

“The second half of life’s been good,” I said.

“My first half wasn’t so hot,” said AP.

Indeed, AP’s first 29 years saw her more like a deer caught in a car’s headlights on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. She titled her parents’ marriage “Ozzie and Harriet in the Twilight Zone.”

“I was in the Twilight Zone with them,” she said. “It was a middle-class suburban family in chaos.”

“I had wild ups and downs in my first half of life. I certainly disappointed my father,” I said.

“You didn’t become a major league baseball player,” said AP.

I laughed, “I didn’t become the next Joe DiMaggio. I was nowhere near as good as you had to be to become a professional player, even a minor leaguer. So I didn’t get the fame he wanted for me. I petered out. And then a bad marriage, divorce and damn it wasn’t exactly turning out like It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we hadn’t met each other I sometimes wonder if I would ever have left Twilight Zone,” she said.

“Without your support I would never have become a well-known writer,” I said.

“The second half has been the best,” said AP.

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ve always felt bad for the people who look over their early years, say in high school or even in college, and reminisce as if these were the best years of their lives. It is sad that the right now is not their best times.”

“I have no nostalgia about those years. I’d never go back,” said AP.

“Me too. Just as we wouldn’t go back from where we came from on this walk, other than a flock of Canada geese, not a bird in sight, I prefer moving ahead. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead,’ as someone famous once said.”

“So let’s move on with the future of this walk,” said the Beautiful AP.

Right then a sparrow landed on the path in front of us. Our first non-goose! AP focused her camera but the sparrow scooted into the bushes before she could take a picture. The sparrow was not the last. We took a couple of steps and two unidentifiable black birds zipped over our heads. At least they were birds!

At the tail end of our walk all hell broke loose! Or maybe you could say that the heavens’ opened. Suddenly there were a half dozen different birds flying overhead, landing in the denuded trees, walking on the snow on the path searching for water and seeds, and some just stood on the side of the path looking at us. AP took dozens of photos. A couple came over and both the husband and the wife exclaimed, “Look at all the cedar waxwings!”

These birds are small and look like miniature cardinals. They were not skittish and the Beautiful AP got dozens of pictures of them. There were cardinals and robins and sparrows and gulls and, yes, flying overhead and honking like crazy were those Canada Geese. There were some other birds too—I just don’t what kind. It was, I kid you not, like being in an aviary.

When we finished, we snuck out of the Refuge and walked  to the car.  AP summed up our lives and this bird walk stating, “The second half was so much better!”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

The Pursuit of the Puffin

On a recent cruise in the North Atlantic (http://frankscoblete.com/my-70th-birthday-cruise/) my wife the Beautiful AP and I wanted to see the huge puffin colony on the Faroe Islands. Supposedly there are millions of puffin nests scattered throughout the islands on the sides of the monstrous mountains jutting out over the sea.

These little birds are beautiful with comical characteristics, including large, colorful beaks. Puffins are generally monogamous birds and build their nests on the sides of the giant mountains.

Puffins make up some of the diet of the Faroe Islanders and Icelanders. I wonder if they taste as good as they look?

“Oh, you probably won’t see many puffins today,” said the receptionist at the hotel where we were meeting our driver and tour guide Thordeval. “The weather is really bad and you are getting a somewhat late start. It is a long drive to that side of the island. You might not see a single one.”

“I thought there were millions of these birds on these islands,” I said.

“Yes, but this weather is not conducive to flying about.” She probably saw the defeated look on my face. “But you might see some, maybe, you know, you might see some.”

The word puffin means “little brother” as some religious folks saw the bird’s black and white colors as similar to monastic robes. Of course, that didn’t stop the islanders from eating these pretty little birds.

Thordeval came by in his taxi and we introduced ourselves. The day before this puffin adventure, the Beautiful AP and I had decided to forgo the bus trips that the cruise line sets up in favor of hiring our own guide. These bus trips had been harrowing, but most were also dull, so we jettisoned them. We wanted to see what we wanted to see in the time we had to see them.

Thordeval shook his head as the wind and rain pelted us as we entered his car. “Not the best weather,” he said. “Those birds may be hiding in their nests.”

“Well,” said AP. “Let’s give it a try.”

It was an hour’s drive to the side of the island inhabited by the puffins; a drive often through long tunnels in the mountains. The drive was beautiful and Thordeval explained how the sheep and fishing industries worked. The mountain sides were littered with sheep.

“Who owns these sheep?” asked AP. “There don’t seem to be any farmhouses nearby.”

“All different farmers own them,” said Thordeval. “They bring the sheep to these grazing areas and they are all mixed together.”

“But when winter comes, how do farmers know which sheep are theirs?” I asked.

“They are branded on the ears just in case the dogs usher the sheep to the wrong farmer,” said Thordeval. “Each farmer’s dogs know their sheep and they herd them in winter to that farmer.”

Keep in mind that winter can be dark up to 24 hours a day. Right now we were in July and it was light except for two hours of “dusk.” I couldn’t see spending almost an entire day in darkness. (See the great horror movie 30 Days of Night.)

Thordeval also explained that there was no crime on the island; at the worst, the police have to occasionally deal with fights between lads who have drunk too much in the pubs. “There aren’t many fights either.”

The Faroe Islands have no squirrels either. Or snakes. My backyard seems to have more dangerous animals than exist on these islands.

Thordeval, like many other islanders, loves where he lives. At one point, he tried living in Denmark, but lasted only six months and then returned home. Many of his schoolmates had the same experience.

At times the rain and wind were ferocious on the coastline. The only birds we saw were numerous varieties of gulls flying and soaring about. The scenery was beautiful even in the on-again, off-again rain.

The rain let up as we arrived in puffin territory. We walked down a slippery mountain path; around a small herd of rams, and we checked the sides of the mountains but saw no puffins. We saw more waterfalls and beautiful vistas of mountains and ocean and the ubiquitous gulls.

Suddenly Thordeval pointed to a spot just below us, maybe about 10 feet down. “There are two!”

And there were two, looking out of their nest. Then they left their nest. What beautiful birds! What comical birds! Oh my God, they just kissed and put their necks around each other. And, and, they were looking right at us. They did not seem afraid of us at all. Maybe these two weren’t aware that they could (someday) be a dinner for someone.

AP spent time cooing as she watched them through her binoculars. She took dozens of photographs with her phone. “I don’t think these are going to come out too clear. I wish I had my camera!” Since we always travel with carry-on and never check luggage, AP had decided to leave the camera home. Maybe we could get one good “phone” picture.

We watched these two birds for a good 20 minutes. They watched us too. Finally they went back into their nest; the rain picked up just then, and we headed back up the path, past the rams, and to Thordeval’s car.

A third puffin zipped by, his wings beating so fast he could have been a colossal hummingbird.

On the way back we toured Torshavn National Museum.

Thanks to Thordeval and a happily married pair of puffins, AP and I were very satisfied with our day in the Faroe Islands.

 

 

 

An Old Hand at Birding

I face the abyss. I am about to turn 70. How is that possible? 70. Seventy?

I would be lying if I said 70 is just a number – it is a number, but one with great meaning; I am at the end lap of life’s race. I can’t pretend that is not so. 70! Time has sped up so that a blink now seems to be the time a year takes, yet I am somewhat slowed. I experience faster and slower simultaneously. I do not put in eight to 10 hours of writing work a day; I am down to three or four.

I still feel I haven’t done all of the things I want to do and I do worry I will not have the time to do them.

The abyss is opening. I see its edges not so far away.

These thoughts weighed heavily on me as my wife the Beautiful AP and I headed for Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for our weekly South Shore Audubon Society’s Sunday bird walk. Last week we were at the Hempstead Lake State Park. I do love these bird walks.

If you have never been to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge take a trip there. It is a fascinating ocean of nature on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, with lakes and bays and birds galore. You also have magnificent views of Manhattan off in the distance. Raw nature entangled in civilization.

We met in the parking lot. There were about 20 of us, led by Joe our birding expert. I noticed there were some new folks at this walk – there are always a few new folks each week – plus the regulars, a truly nice group of people.

At 9 a.m. Joe led us into the park. There is a single path that goes around what used to be a fresh-water lake that has now become salt ever since tropical storm Sandy smashed through the barrier that had kept the salt marsh on its side of the path and the lake on the other.

Today we would be able to walk the one and a half miles around the lake. Estimates are the lake will again be fresh water in about 20 years. Will I see that?

As we walked I noticed her, an older woman, far older than my approaching 70, who would stop and sit every hundred yards or so. There are benches all the around the lake so people can sit and watch the birds on the water, on the marsh grass, in the air and in the branches of the trees.

She sat and eyed everything through her binoculars. As we progressed along the path, I noticed something. This woman’s eyes were sharp. She’d pick out birds none of the rest of us could see and alert us to where they were.

The great fish-devouring ospreys have returned to the Northeast and use the nesting sites set up to protect them from the perils of manmade havoc in their habitat. But the ospreys were not in their nests as we walked; they were in and around the marshlands, basically unnoticeable as they blended with their environment – but she could find them and point out exactly where these beautiful birds were hunting for Sunday brunch. The osprey’s diet is strictly fish and several she had sighted were eating such fish.

She also walked with a great gait, walking stick in hand, from one bench to another bench where she would scour the water-scape and alert us to the unseen birds.

I watched her for the entire 1.5 miles. She had a zest for birding. She had a fine sense of humor (anyone who laughs at my witty remarks has a fine sense of humor) and she knew her birds. She obviously enjoys her life.

Maybe the abyss is not so abysmal? Maybe I should just do the things I want to do and not worry so much about time? Maybe 70 is just a number – one that leads to other numbers. Maybe it isn’t the end of it all.  Maybe, just maybe, seeing this sharp, vibrant person who sees 70 distantly in her rearview mirror, is helping me see 70 through my windshield in a better light.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Birds of a Feather

When I first took up birding in late September of 2016, I figured two things; that the majority of birders would be nuts or so severely neurotic that they could pass for nuts, and second, that the entire group would be composed of progressive leftists and Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders Democrats.

I got those ideas over the years by knowing nothing about birding or birders, and my first talk with a birder on one of my first South Shore Audubon Society birding walks incorrectly confirmed the progressive nature of the birding population.

I opened my conversation with this woman by relating that my recent trip to Cuba disgusted me by the filth, poverty, and unemployment of the country. Even the ships in the harbor were rusty! [Read http://frankscoblete.com/cuba-triumph-revolution/, October 15, 2017)

She listened to me and then said she and her husband were really impressed by the country and the people on their trip to Cuba. That had to be impossible because every other building was a decaying dump and little had been done to fix the crumbling once-great architecture of Havana. I didn’t argue with her because she was fierce in her belief in Castro’s revolution; a true progressive, she probably cut her teeth on the 1960’s love for the Communist movement.

She didn’t have anything negative to say about the revolution’s golden boy, Che Guevara, the official executioner of the regime. He probably lovingly watched the executions of thousands of people — that is, those he wanted executed. I am guessing good old Che was a hero to her as he is to the government of Cuba.

But I was wrong. The birders in our South Shore Audubon Society aren’t anything like a coherent group. Yes, most are of the left but there are plenty of Trump supporters. In New York City and its environs, the leftist Democrats rule by something like two or three to one over Republicans and conservatives. So I found the many rightists in the society surprising.

Now, many of my own opinions are leftist but I do not share the wide-eyed love of communism — a failed, violent philosophy that destroys societies. [Read the Black Book of Communism.] But I do have affection for some of the Trumpian ideas and I respect plenty of the basic conservative principles. I do not, of course, buy into the right-wing evangelism and anti-science nature of the ultra-right.

Aside from the love (or like) of birds, the members of our society are philosophically diverse but they all basically agree on several issues: protection of the environment, protection of our national parks and protection of the habitat of our feathered friends and other animals. Habitat is a key ingredient in the protection of birds.

The rightists and the leftists agree on these principles and that brings everyone together. They are birds of a feather.

[[Read Frank Scoblete’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and The Virgin Kiss. Both available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and other electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Swan Lake

It was to be an average Sunday birding expedition with our South Shore Audubon Society. There were about 25 people gathered on Merrick Road in Massapequa, New York. At this juncture of Merrick Road, the word “road” is a misnomer as the “road” is more of a parkway and the cars are whooshing by at 50 miles per hour.

That was okay; we were all on the sidewalk looking out over the beautiful Massapequa Lake checking out any one of the 31 species we would see that day.

I caught the event in my peripheral vision and simultaneously heard the woman scream, “Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!” A huge Mute Swan, one of those beautiful all-white creatures, had flown over our heads and across Merrick Road, then hit the electric lines and fell onto the road just at the edge of the curb. I saw it drop. The bird moved a little but I was sure it would die. It must have hit those power lines at maximum speed.

Four of our members braved the traffic with Bob yelling, “Don’t cross the road; you’ll get hit.” But committed birders are committed birders, that’s for sure. Four bravehearts, first Bill, who was then joined by Bill. Then Cathy and Anne crossed that road. The first Bill knelt by the bird. The bird moved its legs slightly so it was still alive.

“They had better get that bird onto the sidewalk or some car is going to hit them,” I said to Paul and Bob.

“The bird is dead or it will be dead,” said Paul.

“They were crazy to cross that road,” said Bob.

A car pulled up near us and a grey-haired lady got out. As fate would have it, this lady had just gotten her certificate in animal rescue. She and some of our birders talked and she called the animal rescue society.

“That bird is dead,” I said.

“Dead,” said Paul.

“I know dead when I see it,” I said.

“We’re lucky our guys didn’t get hit by a car,” said Bob.

Bill and Bill and Anne and Cathy lifted the bird to the sidewalk. These Mute Swans are quite large, upwards of four feet sometimes, so it took them a little time to get that bird onto the sidewalk.

“It’s dead,” I said.

“They should throw it into the stream,” said Paul.

“What a way to die,” I said, “slamming into those wires.”

“Those guys were crazy crossing that road,” said Bob shaking his head.

Then the bird moved. It flapped its wings and tried to stand up. Our four birders lifted it. “Let’s get it back to the lake,” one of the four bravehearts said. And so Bill and Bill lifted the bird and started across the road while the grey-haired lady and Kathy and Anne stopped traffic.

As the bird came towards the lake it seemed much better. The men released it and it paused on the banks of the water.

“Man,” I said. “I really thought it was dead.”

“So did I,” Paul said.

“I still wouldn’t have crossed that road,” said Bob.

The bird took to the water and we all burst into applause. You would think this conclusion would have made our day but then…

…another Mute Swan came zipping over – this one was gigantic, much bigger than our injured one.

“Oh, God, no!” shouted one of our birders.

“No! That other swan is going to kill it!” shouted a second woman.

The gigantic Mute Swan aggressively slammed his head right into our swan. A skirmish ensued, but our swan struggled to shore while the gigantic one waited for him to reenter the lake. Our swan stayed put. When the gigantic swan saw that our swan would not head back into the lake, it paddled away but you could see he was still eyeing our swan.

When our swan reentered the lake the gigantic swan came flying over.

“I don’t think our swan can survive another fight,” I said.

“The big swan is going to kill it,” said Paul.

“Our swan should never have gotten back into the water,” said Bob.

“Our swan can’t fly,” I said at the exact same moment our swan took to the air and escaped the gigantic one who, surprisingly, did not follow it.

Joe, our leader, said: “They are territorial. They stake out a section of a lake and will fight any other one from going into their territory. Mute Swans tend to mate for life. Another bird enters its territory at risk.”

Our mute swan survived an awful ordeal.

“I really thought it was dead,” I said.

“So did I,” said Paul.

“I still wouldn’t have crossed the street,” said Bob.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic. Available from Amazon.com, kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]