Thar Ain’t No Gold in Them Thar Hills

I enjoy birding or, as it used to be called, bird watching. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I try to go get outside, sometimes just the two of us, just as often with the South Shore Audubon Society (SSAS) on Sunday morning excursions.

I am an amateur of amateurs. I know the names of some of the birds but basically I just gape. I enjoy hearing them sing, watching them fly, seeing those hunting raptors soar. I will never be an expert as some of the members of the SSAS are, but that’s fine with me.

I can last for about two hours on a walk; once or twice I’ve hit three hours, but I can’t do the all-morning, all-afternoon, most-of-the-evening walks some of the SSAS members enjoy. I do know my limitations.

My wife photographs the birds, the trails, and nature. When we get home she goes over the hundreds of pictures she took that day and will ask me my opinion of this one or that one—an opinion I am happy to express.

But not all bird walks are rewarding based on how many birds we encounter. There are some days when there are so few birds that we will say, “Nothing to be seen.”

Still, saying such a thing does not adequately express what we experienced that walk.

Where we take our most beautiful walks—Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens; the Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside on Long Island; and the Cape May Point Trails near the Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey—can be inspiring, with or without many bird sightings.

A bird-empty beautiful area is still a beautiful area, and one to be savored. The three mentioned above are just such areas, and there are more.

But on a walk at the Marine Nature Study Area where there was “nothing to be seen,” something else hit me.

“You know,” I said to the Beautiful AP. “Even on walks where we say we didn’t see any birds, that isn’t true. We usually see something.”

That is true. We tend to simply overlook some birds because they are so familiar that they are just considered pests. Take the Canada Geese which can be found everywhere we go. Indeed, there probably isn’t a lake, pond, park, ballfield or grassy knoll that hasn’t seen an invasion of these creatures.

The sky at times can be filled with them flying in a massive “V” shape. They honk like crazy; and crap large black heaps, all to their hearts’ content. Such heaps can cover any footpath, turning a simple walk into a game of hopscotch.

You always know when they are around. They can aggressively demand food or privacy from humans. They have accommodated themselves to living in our areas to the point where they don’t even bother to migrate anymore.

When we see them we just tend to overlook them; it’s as if we didn’t see them.

“You know AP, if we only saw a few now and then, they would fascinate us.”

“True,” she said.

Canada Geese are large birds, powerful, and they move rather quickly. They are high flyers and their landings in the waters of lakes and ponds can be fast and furious.

Sometimes on our walks where we see “no birds,” we have seen dozens of Canada Geese, which we completely discount.

On the days when we think “thar ain’t no gold in them thar hills,” in reality there is plenty of gold. We have beautiful landscapes away from traffic to enjoy. And if we pretend never to have seen this species that has come to annoy us, they can transform a birdless walk into a bird walk, to which some of my wife’s photos can attest.

So, in birding, sometimes nothing is actually something.

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5 thoughts on “Thar Ain’t No Gold in Them Thar Hills”

  1. Perfect timing with this article as my mother and I were at the Marine Study area in Oceanside yesterday! I did post my pictures for others to see on Facebook and Instagram since it was too beautiful not to share.
    We had a lovely brisk walk and we were greeted and farewelled by two geese in the parking lot. They were actually quite regal.
    The one osprey we spotted was shy and stayed on the ground near the shore close to the nest used year after year.
    It was a refreshing walk and all we kept saying was Thank God this place was saved! Give nature a chance and She shows us her beauty.

  2. Beautiful photos Alene, thanks for sharing, and another enjoyable article Frank. I look forward to reading each one.

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