Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Bird Garden of the Marsh



            I walk these days in the salt marsh off Quincy Shore Drive, even though last month I came home with a tricky black tick that ended up attached to my thigh before I realized it was there.
            In other years I have pursued the big wading birds who hunt for fish in the twists of water that curve through the tall marsh grasses, especially the two kinds of Spartina cordgrass (high and low). They shoot off ahead and wait for me as I turn a curve in the path used by pretty much no one but the two of us and flush the big birds heedlessly around the bend. Not this year. No big birds in the shoreline marsh this year. Was it something I said? No great blue heron or great white egret, or hawks such as the pair I spotted here a half dozen times last fall.
            I hunt the little birds instead. The black-capped hedge hoppers that make chick-a-dee-dee calls, chiding, going for the piercing effect rather than melody, the chick-a-dee-dee-dee sounding metallic and warning instead of a mere call-of-myself, an identity song, the way it sounds in warmer months. These chickadees, if that’s what they are, have a yellowish cloud in the breast area. A different variety from those we're accustomed to seeing in Massachusetts backyards? The Carolina version up here already?
            A platoon of them hop to the next elder thicket when I come close, as if observing some 10-foot-separation rule. But sometime one forgets, I get about six feet away and try to snap pictures of a little bird in thick snag of half dead clump of wild thicket with colors that mix amazingly well with these interesting little birds. You can barely see the bird in the resulting image: another snap of wild autumn thicket.
            A big flock of brown-feather, larger birds, starling size, keep an even stricter distance between us, zooming into the tree cover at the sound of my approach. What crimes have these birds committed that they are so sure the approach of a large, loud walking figure means someone wants to shoot at them.
            I come unarmed, though they all seem to take offense at the camera. They do not like to see objects raised to my face. Are they genetically predisposed to see bird-shooting slingshots everywhere?
            Though I don't see any charismatically big birds this fall, it may be because I am looking in the wrong places. When I walk on the road side of the marsh the next afternoon searching the cordgrass and tree line from another point of view, I spy nothing but a hurrying crow. Squawking all my himself, he clearly has something to say. But for long moments no feathered fellows rush to his side to take up the story.
            Sometimes squawking crows have something to squawk about. Even though only one has raised the cry, eventually I lift my eyes to the cloud-blown blue sky above and spot the high sailor, riding the air currents far above the marsh and every other little piece of earth below.
            It's a hawk, and he really is very high in the sky, though not high enough to escape a crow-eyed sentinel. It's gratifying, somehow, to know that he's back in the neighborhood.