When my three sons were small, we had a lovely home on Squaw Island in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.
Private beaches on one side; a large salt water marsh on the other.
Only nine spaciously homes on the island, including one owned by the then Senator Ted Kennedy and one by Morton Downey (not junior!, for heaven’s sake.)
Living there for two years before it dawned on me that the birds and bird species, resident and transient, were numerous and quite lovely.
The awakening: a vibrating-gold tiny bird alighted on a tree branch six feet in front of me, on the outside of the kitchen window.
What a visually aesthetic moment.
What a connection to the local wildlife.
To our environment.
How many times a day are similar moments occurring to which I am not paying attention?
Off to the bookstore where I found and bought the groundbreaking, seminal “Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America,” by Roger Tory Peterson. For the three people in the US who aren’t aware, Peterson’s work made it easy for lay people to take up birdwatching as a hobby. He won every known award in the areas of natural science, ornithology, and conservation.
He hooked me.
I hooked Toni-Lee, my wife.
So I took the book home (soon after to buy two excellent pairs of 8-power binoculars, de rigueur as tools of the experience,) and sat at our kitchen table with its great window.
That tiny yellow bird again.
The binoculars to my eyes, I was treated to a detailed picture of a perfect creature, beautiful, active, and an important introduction to the natural world in which it thrived.
My world, too, the branch, the leaves, the tree, the woods, the seeds.
Heart thumping that it may fly off before I could identify it, I fanned through the sections obviously not pertinent – birds of prey, large water birds – to the sections on warblers and finches, more relatable sizes and colorations, amazed to so quickly find a picture of our bird: a brilliant lemon-yellow with a striking jet-black cap and white rump visible during flight. The female, it said, mostly brown, lighter on the underside with a yellow bib.
Toni-Lee came over and verified the identification.
Immediately after came the bird feeders (after the appropriate research, of course.)
Had to make them squirrel proof.
Unfriendly to the larger woodland birds.
A shout out to brother-in-law Mark, the live-in hunter-carpenter, who installed all such equipment for us.
We discovered that our property was awash in goldfinches, bob whites, pheasants, house wrens, house finch, flickers, hummingbirds, catbirds, kingfishers, Eastern Kingbirds, nuthatches, and so many more, without counting the shorebirds that abounded in the large adjacent marsh.
Next step, we searched and found a plethora of bird watching groups that were happy to have their ranks swelled by the addition of two others.
And to teach us everything they knew.
So born a major hobby for Toni and I.
We spent many mornings on birdwatching walks.
Whenever we traveled we took our binoculars and the local birding guide.
We had a particularly thrilling moment on one of the Caribbean islands, armed with our binoculars and guide, making it to the top of a hill to finds two other birders in place there, a man and a woman.
Of course we all said hello.
The oldish gent nodded to our guidebook and asked how we liked it?
And would we like the author to sign it.
We would and he did.