Rare bird sighting on Beech Hill .. confessions of an accidental naturalist

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BLACK HEADED GROSBEAK ON BEECH HILL PHOTO BY DOUG HITCHCOX

SOMESVILLE, June 6, 2020 – It’s not possible to ignore the ubiquity of creatures, insects, plants and vegetation which we humans encounter on this island daily. Sharing my morning coffee with a hummingbird at the feeder, avoiding a field mouse scurrying across our dirt road, stealthily clipping some beautiful lupine flowers and hoping no one catches me defiling nature, and trying mightily to commune with the owl before it takes flight at dusk.

If you live here, you are an accidental naturalist whether you like it or not. The tag of serious naturalists belongs to a devoted community of people called birders.

I was introduced to this special fraternity last year when I entered and won a silent auction at the Southwest Harbor Library’s annual dinner for a guided birding tour led by local ornithologist Craig Kesselheim. In mid September we trekked through Ship’s Harbor Trail and enjoyed the sighting of various shore birds. As a lifelong sailor I was equipped properly with adequate binoculars.

Suddenly at the point Kesselheim’s demeanor shifted into high animation, and he exclaimed and pointed, “Black Skimmers!”

I turned to where he pointed and saw four birds flying about 15 feet above the water heading south. They were like the F-15 fighter jets I saw at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada when I was a young reporter in 1977. They were in formation as precise as the Blue Angels. They were purposeful. And they were fleeting.

At that moment I understood birding.

On Friday night May 29 Duane Braun saw an unusual yellow throated bird at his feeder on Beech Hill Road and consulted his guide. Could it be? These birds just aren’t seen in the Northeast. Braun went across his street and consulted Tom Hayward, a more serious birder who confirmed that this indeed is a black headed grosbeak.

Conversations ensued, especially with Craig Kesselheim, because the discovery of an exciting species where it doesn’t belong could bring out a hoard of birders.

The next day, my wife and I are on our daily walk. We are on Beech Hill Road when we pass a house with many cars parked on the roadside and many folks with cameras and binoculars.

I knew what it had to be .. I could not help my journalistic impulses. “What did you see?” A Black headed Grosbeak, I was told. A western bird almost never seen in the Northeast. Okay. Is that it? How did it get here? What does it say about migration patterns? What does it say about climate change?

But that’s the entire point, isn’t it? Unless we observe and document the data, we’ll never know.

Craig Kesselheim was kind enough to point out that this was an extraordinary week of birding, including his sighting of a pink-footed goose, the first sighting on MDI and Hancock County.

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PINK FOOTED GOOSE ON BABSON CREEK PRESERVE IN SOMESVILLE (PHOTO BY WILL RUSSELL)

I am humbled by the life here. I abhor the use of the word “wildlife.” As human civilization disintegrates before us, I am eager to learn more about how species around us can help save our own.PAGE BREAK