February 22, 2014 – My graduation day


                   The Bell

Eighty-five years ago, a lonely night

Before dawn in a Minnesota swamp,

A Five-year-old listened with all his might.

He stood alone, afraid, frozen, and damp.


He had no Mom or Dad to lead his way.

For food, he spent the summer on a farm

His job to chase the cows at break of day

For their morning milking, back to the barn.


“Keep them moving,” was the farmer’s command.

“Only the lead cow knows the way back here.

 At times, the old girl stops.  Then you must stand

 Until you hear the cowbell ring out there.”


For many years that boy has led us home.

Now we need to find our own way. Shalom.


                                               February 23, 2008






Horned Grebe, Indian River Inlet, February 22, 2014


      My dad told my older brother some stories that he didn’t tell anyone else.  Chris’s parents told me a few stories like that.  Sometimes the story is too important to let it go untold, but too painful to relive.  So you tell it once, and never again.  Losing his uncle was one of those stories for my dad.  Another was growing up really poor in depression era Minnesota.  When he was five, his parents had him spend the summer on another man’s farm.  His pay was his food and maybe a few dollars for the whole summer.  One of his jobs was to be let off in the dark every morning at one end of the farmer’s property.  He would enter the swamp at that part of the farm and start the farmer’s milk cows moving toward the barn.  The lead cow had a bell which the boy could hear as long as she was moving.  The other cows always followed the lead cow, and she was the one who knew the way home.  As long as the boy could hear the bell, he could follow the sound and not get lost.  Alone in a dark swamp, with a distant bell to lead him out -- that’s a tough assignment for anyone.  I can’t imagine what it takes out of a five-year-old.  Compared to that, I’ve had an incredibly sheltered life.

      We had the most severe winter in the last twenty five years.  We lost power for four days and had snow of the ground from mid-January, and it still hasn’t melted off.  That hasn’t happened here before, at least not in my memory.  Today the temperature is above fifty degrees and we saw two big flocks of Snow Geese and a big flock of Canada Geese flying northwest over our yard.  Yesterday was the first bright and sunny day since I got my new camera and also the first warm day.  Chris and I took off for a day of birding at Indian River Inlet in Delaware.  I think that even a very experienced birder would have considered yesterday to be a good day in the field.  You’ve been very patient as I’ve told you about some of my other bird trips, so I’ll just list the birds and show some of the pictures.  Four are life birds for me.


Long-tailed Duck male, Indian River Inlet


      On the north side of the inlet we saw Long-tailed Ducks, Boat-tailed Grackles, Common Loons, and Buffleheads. 


Red-necked Grebe and Horned Grebe, Indian River Inlet


Brandt, Indian River Inlet


At the marina, we saw Horned Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, and a big flock of Brandts.   In the campground on the south side of the inlet, we searched for Snow Buntings that had been spotted earlier by other birders early in the morning, but we were too late for those. 


Surf Scoter, Indian River Inlet


Black Scoter, Indian River Inlet


From the south side of the inlet, with the sun at our backs, we got good pictures of Long-tailed Ducks, Surf Scoters, and Black Scoters. 



Four Purple Sandpipers, nine Sanderlings, and one little guy in the middle who might be a plover or a turnstone wishing he hadn’t stuck around for this winter,  Indian River Inlet, February 22, 2014


We got pictures of far away Purple Sandpipers, but on the spot we relied on Chris’s sharp eyes and binocular observations that the birds had a lilac hue to their mostly white bodies. The other species that is a likely possibility is Sanderling.  In my blurry, there are both the darker, yellow-legged Purple Sandpipers and the paler and whiter Sanderlings. 




Canvasbacks, Silver Lake, Delaware


On the way back up Route 1 at Silver Lake, we photographed big flocks of sleeping Canvasbacks and a single loon with a very yellow bill.  I know that a Yellow-billed Loon is a rarity, but that is what I saw and took pictures of.

      When I saw the unusual loon, I thought back to March, when I thought I had taken a picture of a Yellow-billed Loon, only to realize in the parking lot that it was a non-breeding Common Loon.  That precipitated a birding temper tantrum and a following self-analysis.  Since then, I think I’ve been a lot more balanced.  Also, it is interesting that the Long-tailed Duck showed up today. At Bombay Hook, we misidentified (note how generous I am in sharing credit for a wrong id) Northern Pintails as Long-tailed Ducks.  The males have similar very long thin tails, but very different size, shape, and plumage. Brandts and Canvas backs were very welcome on my graduation day (from a first year birder to a sophomore), since I had been looking for these elegant water fowl all of last year.  Really, I did.  The Red-necked Grebes were a tease, while some of the Horned Grebes posed nicely.  The scoters were fun and, of course, I was happy to see my good buddies, the Buffleheads.



Surf Scoter, Indian River Inlet

Black Scoter, Indian River Inlet, February 22, 2014



Long-tailed Duck female, Indian River Inlet, February 22, 2014

      This is it for my rookie year as a birder and a writer.  I know that my observations were sketchy and sometimes wrong and that my writing was choppy.  Sometimes the poems and pictures seem to relate closely to the text and sometimes they are a stretch.  It is February and the book is written and cobbled together.  I seriously underestimated how much time it takes to do the purely mechanical tasks.  Thank you to Rachel for typing the first half of the book and for going on the Michigan trip and for getting the web site started.  Thank you to Kathryn for being a competent and honest editor.  Even though the writing is flawed, as I get it into shape as an e-book, I intend to leave it basically s it is.  The mistakes are my mistakes and if I get to write follow-on books, then I’ll try to write more smoothly there.  Thanks to Mike for sharing his ideas and for keeping me alive on the Georgia trip.  A very special thanks to Sue Lucas and George Tallman for being great bird walk leaders and excellent teachers of natural lore.  I will stop kidding about Chris being my sidekick. She really did do all those amazing things that I gave her credit for, except for keeping track of our expenses.  Those are a mess.  Anyway, she is more than a sidekick or a partner.  She is the foundation on which the rest of my life is built.

      In March, Mike, Rachel and I plan to bird the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf coast of Texas.  That will be in a different story.  Seeing a Yellow-billed Loon will also have to be in a different story.  The pictures show that the bird at Silver Lake was a very common juvenile Double-breasted Cormorant.  In 2014, instead of just being excited over seeing loons, terns, and cuckoos with yellow bills, I hope to get involved in the birds’ actual adventures.  For example, in Texas, I will try to meet up with The Roadrunner and help him trick Wiley Coyote into falling off a cliff while holding an armload of lit dynamite.  That will be stepping it up a few clicks on the old pedometer.

      Today’s graduation dinner was shrimp baskets at the Smyrna Diner.  Chris was the invocation speaker and she was very good.  She said that the day at Indian River Inlet was like a treasure hunt, that the sun felt wonderful, and that the day had been fun.  So long for now.  Don’t forget to send me an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 Herring Gull, Indian River Inlet, February 22, 2014