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Birding South Beach, Cape Cod

Monday, August 11, 2008

Because Swarovski rep Clay Taylor, liason to the birding and naturalist community, is a birder’s birder, he knew just what antsy birders needed after a day in the boardroom. That would be birds, lots of them. Here, he's in his element, surrounded by waders, happily digiscoping the day away.

If I ever wondered whether fall migration had started, my doubts fell into soft mud as we reached South Beach, a long spit of sand off Chatham, Massachusetts. There were so many birds here, migrating shorebirds all, that the sand was dark with them. All were gorging on the clean mudflats, probing in the sand, or simply resting up on the dune.

The first thing we noticed was the plethora of horseshoe crabs both old and very young. Dakota, Birdfreak’s nephew from Indiana, was beside himself at handling his first horseshoe crabs. I imparted what little of their natural history that I knew while we examined and played with them. Dakota keeps his own blog, liberally spiced with his photos and those of his uncle Birdfreak’s--stunning work. Check it out! He impressed me most by carrying a large cast horseshoe crab shell all day in one hand as he made his in-depth exploration of the shallows and dunes. I like to think of that crab hanging on a boy’s bedroom wall in Indiana. Here's a live crab, steaming away. I love those things, love to pick them up and look at their crawly undersides and feel the primitive strength of them. And these are the crabs whose eggs feed the shorebirds in May. May we not fish them farther into oblivion feeding our boundless greed.

It was energizing to have young bloggers and thinkers around, and Helena from the Adventures of BirdGirl was fun to hang with. Dakota and Helena have come to blogging as a natural extension of an involvement with computers that started in early childhood; they’ve never known the Luddite world in which I grew up. The Google search is as natural as breathing to them, as natural as it has become to me, old dog that I am. Having an online presence is no big deal to the MySpace generation, and I am huffing and puffing to keep up. Helena came on the trip with her mom, and watching them laugh and share observations together made me miss Phoebe something awful. Helena told me that this was her mom’s first real birdwatching trip, and it was a beautiful thing to see her soaking in the diversity and wonder of birds, with help from her daughter. Those role reversals are part of the stunning surprise that is parenting.

Corey, 1/3 of the 10,000 Birds team, was enthralled by the shorebird throngs.
Most everyone was digiscoping on South Beach, using Swarovski equipment. Their blogs bear the beautiful evidence. Since I had a 300 mm. lens on my Canon Digirebel, I couldn't adapt it to shoot through a spotting scope. Sigh.
I will say right now that the bird pictures you are about to endure are emphatically not my best. Somehow the Image Stabilization feature on my telephoto lens, which helps cancel out hand tremor, got switched OFF in the shuffle or the duffle, and I didn’t discover the problem until we got back in the boat for Chatham. I banged away at the birds all day long, unable to get a clear photo. And it was so darn bright out on the beach I couldn’t see the screen to check my work, anyway. (To be fair, it was a tough mileu--they were a long way off. Shorebirds have little tolerance for close approach). So if you ever wonder whether an image-stabilized lens is worth the extra money, look at the raggedy—ss photos I’m showing here and dig deep into your bank account. I’m nuthin’ without me image stabilizer. On to my flubby photos.
A belted kingfisher made an elegant finial for a boat mast, then took off, as they always do. It's a boy--no chestnut "bra" band.

One of the "It" birds of the day was a Wilson's phalarope in winter plumage, showing its odd proportions as it danced like a ballerina chasing sand flies.Because the phalarope usually forages while swimming in tight circles, it has outsized feet, studded with fleshy lobes that act as oars. It looked so odd to me, dancing around on hot sand.The needle-fine bill is a real tipoff for phalarope ID. I have to say they look better swimming.
Do not adjust your screen. I will inflict more destabilizing images on you anon.


just reading this, I can almost feel the sand oozing between my toes :-)
I just hope this experience is still available to all those "young bloggers and thinkers" when they're our age! :-[

Ooo...I'm on Julie Zickefoose's blog!

My mom is going to be so happy!

It was a pleasure meeting and birding with you Julie.

Wonderful story! I don't mind your destabilized images -- that's what shorebirds look like in real life -- blurry :-)

Your mention of the young birder carrying around a cast horseshoe crab helped me overcome blogger's block. I know the guy who made that crab. Check out my entry: The Plover Warden Diaries.

Corey, news flash...your mom is already happy, 'cuz you are so tuff 'n cute.

The phalaropes look pretty good to me.
(any shore bird is a welcome addition to this mid-westerners vocabulary these days!)

Enjoy the surf!

Love your answer to Corey.
Love a marsh too, more than about any other place.
Send your birds, we are ready.

Those horseshoe crabs are amazing. Almost prehistoric. Given my birthright I'm embarassed to say I've never seen one before. Followed your link to birdgirl's blog where she had pictures of them upside-down in your hands -- it's as if a regular old crab was crossed with a skate.

I don't know Clay Tayolor, but I love the photo you took of him birding. I can feel the ooze and taste the salt. That is my kind of South Beach!

i wish i knew you were here....would have loved to say hello in person! i'm on south beach several times a week....;-(

Ah, well -- you had lovely coverage of the most fascinating critter at a bird shoot -- the Tripodal Coastal Photographer. Whenever there's a crowd focused on a single event, I discover many species of photographer present & try to capture their pictures.

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