Yesterday I went out to Charles Island, a mass of rocks, vines, and tangled thickets in Milford harbor. It can be reached on foot only for an hour or two when the tide is at its lowest, along a narrow tombolo. Once May arrives, the island will be a no-go zone, as it is a protected rookery for herons and egrets. Getting across the tombolo, the weather was grim, the skies were like lead, and the wind was fierce. On the island, though, it was a wonderland, a wild kingdom. My lovely and intrepid friend Amar Kaur and I saw at least 100 black-crowned night herons dotting the trees. Great egrets, with their long lacy breeding plumage trailing down like evening gowns, had their nests in the treetops.
The longer we looked, the better our eyes got at perceiving the birds. At first, where it seemed there was one or two in a tree, the better our eyes became at seeing, we noticed two or three more, then others still. Makes we wonder about all the other things our eyes must skip over every day.
Out there on Charles Island, it was easy to forget we were so close to modern life, cars, roads, Dunkin Donuts, Wal-mart . . . we heard only the sounds of the waves; the trees and thick vines creaking; the bizarre barking sounds of the herons, so much like a dog; and what my field guide calls the "guttural croak" of the great egrets, though that doesn't do justice to the otherworldly sound, which to my ears is like the clatter of Australian aboriginal clapsticks.
Just as we began to get nervous about making it back across the tombolo before the tide swept back in, the herons started getting restless, too. When I was cozily back home, I looked up my field guide and found out they were heading off for their night-time feast of fish, mollusks, small rodents, frogs, snakes, crustaceans, and even eggs and young birds.
Before we left the island, I was startled, thinking I saw a dog-like face staring at me through the brushes - a coyote? a feral dog? - but it was a white-tailed deer, looking at me with cautious big brown eyes. It headed off along one of the well-worn deer tracks, followed by about a dozen others, all breath-takingly quiet and gentle.