Yipes – the radar shows thunderstorms just to the west and when I took the pups out this morning it started to pour. But I hadn’t been to Gooseberry lately and I thought I’d at least take a drive down there and see what I could see from inside the car. Wow! Great decision and lucky timing! I bagged a hunter I have been hoping to get all fall, confronted another hunter (different species from first) and my own prejudices, and discovered a bird that I bet I’ve seen dozens of times in my life and never knew it – a bird that wasn’t even in my vocabulary, but should have been!
First, although it’s just a couple miles south of here, it wasn’t raining at Gooseberry – the sun was even slicing through the clouds making for some dazzling, rapidly changing seascapes. In fact, the shot below is one bookend for this post, as you’ll see.
First up, though, were these two hunters. Yes, that’s my Marsh Hawk which I caught a fleeting picture of several weeks ago from a much greater distance. This time she was not only close, but when my camera suddenly didn’t work she waited for me to kick the tire and get it working! And yes, that’s a young duck hunter who has stopped cleaning his 12-gauge shotgun long enough to check out the marsh hawk. And yes, she is big – just shy of the redtail hawk in length and wing span and she doesn’t need a license to hunt, nor does she have a bag limit.
The Marsh Hawk has always been one of my favorites and I have seen them frequently flying low over Gooseberry, hunting small game. But since I started Gooseberry Journal this fall I haven’t gotten anything like this kind of good look.
You know the Marsh Hawk by the way it flies low, following the contour of the land as it hunts – and you know it, in flight, by its distinctive white rump.
And the other species of hunter? Well, I’m trying to understand this species – and myself, since I’m part of the same tribe – and try to be less judgmental and get rid of my anger by simply being more self aware. So I was real happy that I could approach this young man, have a conversation about his hunting, and find him likable. And when I looked at myself, I could find no anger. I liked him. That’s a big step for me. As a teenager I was a hunter. But it didn’t take me long to switch sides and eventually hold hunters in disdain. I really hate the idea of anyone making a sport of killing. But as I started my walk along the island’s central trail I thought about my own eating of burned animal parts and of how those animals I eat are raised and slaughtered in huge, commercial, money-grubbing farming operations and with such thoughts it’s pretty hard to dredge up self-righteous indignation about hunters. If I were a vegetarian . .. but I’m not. And moving right along, here’s my next surprise.
What the heck is that undulating line of large, flying, mostly white birds way out at sea to the west? Too small to be swans. Too large and white and… well, look at this picture, taken with a telephoto, of course.
I was flumoxed. Even without the telephoto they looked like something different. But I was ready when I got home to learn they were just gulls. Then I looked at the pictures more closely and I saw the distinctive black wing tips – and a lot of different degrees of white. What the heck are they? Take a closer look.
Have you got them figured out? I do. But only after a bout with the “Sibley Guide to Birds” and the “Field Guide to Birds” by Donald and Lillian Stokes and yes, “Birds of New England” a Smithsonian Handbook, as well. And once I was absolutely positive I was looking at a line of Northern Gannets, I switched to Pete Dunne’s “Essential” – yes, it really is essential and delightful, too – “Field Guide Companion.” Boy does he ever capture what I saw and it is all the little behavior clues that make the big difference. Yes, field marks are nice, but you’re dealing with living, moving, animals and they’re all individuals. But here are some quotes from Dunne I found particularly useful, and another picture.
In flight the Northern Gannet is larger, stiffer, more angular, and more four-points-pointy (bill, tail, and the two wing tips) than the largest gull. . .
Adults (at least four years old) are all white with all black wingtips. The yellow wash on the head disappears at a distance . . .Older subadults are variously piebald . ..
Flies with a coursing, undulating rise and fall . . . Often flies low over the water in a line with other gannets that recalls the rise and fall of roller-coaster cars on some invisible track.
Yep – exactly what they looked like!
So what does my species hunt? Ducks, of course – sea ducks – mostly the Eiders that I love. So hear this girls – stop waving to everyone who passes you on the causeway. Scoot out of this shooting galler for a few months. Find, some lonely, deserted coast where you can live out your life in comfort, kept warm by that beautiful down vest!
Oh – and the thunderstorms? They hit after I got home – no thunder here, but a lot of rain. But I escaped them on Gooseberry. As a matter of fact, as I was finishing my walk, heading north towards the parking lot, I had this beautiful view of the sun shining through the clouds and appearing to throw a moving spotlight on buildings at Horseneck Beach more than a mile away.
What a theater we inhabit!