Issue: April 2000
A Bird Man

Here's my pearl of wisdom for this issue: It's much easier to sneak up on a tree than to sneak up on a duck.

In fact-and I won't charge extra for expanding on this-it's all but impossible to sneak up on a duck, whereas it's all but unnecessary to sneak up on a tree. You follow me? No, of course you don't, and don't look at me like that. That's just how the doctors looked at me before they put me in the Bad Place.

Let me explain-about the trees and ducks, I mean. I've always been a tree man. That is, as an adult, I've always been interested in trees. Or, more accurately, I've always felt a need to identify them, to know one specimen from another. I have no idea where this fetish comes from. I just know it's there, and that I'm in the process of wearing out my second copy of the Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Trees.

Birds, until very recently, haven't had that effect on me. It's not that I've ever had anything against birds, mind you. They're splendid creatures, and lovely neighbors here on the creek. But I've never been particularly specimen-minded about them. I sense an awakening, though, bird-wise. It probably began when I came here to Reed Creek. How could I not come awake in a place like this, where the herons do their slow-motion stilt-walk across the bulkhead and the cormorants perch on the pilings and the swallows build nests under the pier? I am indeed more aware of birds now, here and elsewhere.

But what really brought this into focus happened just a few days ago-and a very interesting convergence of events it was. In the morning I had read the final version of Marty LeGrand's excellent article, "Wings on the Bay," which begins on page 56 of this issue. And I had said to myself, "Hmm, maybe you should do that this summer-strap a kayak to old Ink Pot and go birding on the Bay. Make a note of it." That very evening I arrived home to find a veritable convention of ducks on the creek. There must have been 3,000 of them, which is not in itself unusual; duck conventions are fairly common on Reed Creek. What is unusual is that, inexplicably, I now needed to know what kind of ducks they were.

I walked out to the end of the pier to get a closer look, but the ducks
didn't like that; the whole immense throng radiated away from me as I neared the end of the pier. So I went back to the house, got the binoculars and a bird book and settled in on the deck, determined to identify these critters. Okay, white body, reddish-black head, black chest, dark tail feathers.   Must be . . .canvasbacks. Yep, they're canvasbacks. I wonder why they-

As I watched through the binoculars, the whole bloody flock took off at once. It was a remarkable scene. First the water boiled under them, then the air filled with a tremendous fluttering roar and then they were gone, soaring over the trees toward the Chester River. Well, I thought, when they decide to go, they don't fool around. Then I saw the kayaker, paddling around the corner from the cove. Aha! So the ducks didn't just decide to leave; they were spooked by the kayaker, who I silently chastised for his intrusion.

Jeez, pal, I muttered, you can't just go sneaking up on canvasbacks like that. What do you think they are, trees?