Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I've seen a Snowy Owl!

The call goes out: a Snowy Owl at Stratford Point. Not much more than a 20-minute drive away. Grab binoculars, camera, car keys, jump in car. Frank Gallo gives me directions to this place I've been a million times before but of course can't remember how to get to. He's giving exceptionally good directions, but to me it sounds like: words, words, diner, turn left, words, words, airport, other words, more words -- what is wrong with me? Anyone who gives me directions may as well be talking in Abyssinian. I know that even once I've plugged the street address into the GPS, I will still get lost. Now why is everyone suddenly obeying the speed limit? It's un-American. Why won't that giant SUV get out of the overtaking lane? What the hell is that guy in the giant Cadillac tank-boat-thing with Tennessee license plates actually doing? Certainly not driving. I take a wrong turn. Yes, even with the GPS. Somehow I get there. Step out of car. Cell phone falls out of pocket onto pavement, falls into more pieces than I realized a cell phone consisted of. The bird is astonishing. It's just sitting there, 20 yards away from a knot of birders, napping, occasionally opening its eyes and swiveling its head, absorbing the warmth of the rocks. I get that dissociated feeling you get when you're in the middle of an accident that's unspooling right before your eyes: It's happening, yes, it's happening, but somehow it's not happening; you're registering it all from a distance. All this time -- more than three decades -- and here I am, face to face with this creature. It's head is so rounded, so boofy -- somehow I only fully notice this now, being able to watch it turn that head. And there are barely perceptible ear tufts, fluffing up now and then in the wind, which always blows cold and hard out at Stratford Point. Thank you, Scott Kruitbosch, for finding this beauty today, and Frank Mantlik, for setting up his scope so I could get a good look!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Protesters occupy Foley Square! I still haven't seen a Snowy Owl!

So I was umming and ahhing over whether to go into the city and see the OWS Day of Action today. How weird it would be, I thought, to see subway stations occupied by the masses. (Oh hang on, what's weird about that?) Anyway, my urge to see my first Snowy Owl was more pressing, so I went to East Haven.

(You know, I probably should use that photo-straightening tool in Windows Photo Gallery, but somehow it always seems like cheating to do that.)
Wow, that is a welcoming little place just off Cosey Beach Avenue, in East Haven. Why did I always used to think of "cozy" when I saw that street name? There were "No Parking" and "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs everywhere. Um, yeah, okay.

This is the inviting rock where the Snowy Owl was -- yesterday, for hours, when I wasn't:

Whoa, check out that horizon! Was I drunk? No. East Haven most certainly has some kind of strange electromagnetic ley line vortex effect going on.
No Snowy Owl today. The quest continues. And I can't complain, really. It is so quiet down there at this time of year, so unpeopled, that the gulls and Brant and Sanderlings are in a world of their own -- a busy, methodical world of turning shells over and winkling around with their bills to find food. The only sound was the tinkling of shells along the foreshore.

Attack of the 50-foot gull
I have been delightedly looking at Keith Mueller's pictures of the Snowy Owl, which he took yesterday. Now I want to see one myself even more. That a killing machine so powerful it can take down a great big eider duck looks so freaking cute when it yawns is just amazing.

Occupy Wall Street, or look for a Snowy Owl?

There are two birds that I have wanted to see since I was small child: the Wandering Albatross and the Snowy Owl. Both thanks to my mother. The Wandering Albatross became a fixation after she took me to see a live production of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" one night in our town's only big cathedral. I still remember the lead striding down the aisle between the pews -- "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink" -- albatross (well, probably a Silver Gull, truth be told) around his neck. I finally saw Wandering Albatrosses this year, on a SOSSA pelagic trip out of Wollongong, in eastern Australia, in August. Even whilst heaving over the side of the boat (turns out I have no sea legs), I was still in awe as the albatrosses sailed by like small, silent planes.

The Snowy Owl, though, huh. Almost every year one turns up in coastal Connecticut for a day or so, and it always seems to be when I am stuck at my desk. The Snowy Owl thing happened thanks to my mother attending art college, painting a giant canvas inspired by a picture from National Geographic of four Snowy Owl chicks hunkered down on a desolate tundra. The idea of tundra, permanently frozen ground, was so appealing to a humidity-hating child stuck in subtropical Australia. Those chicks had gimlet eyes, and they looked somehow superior, as if they knew something the rest of us didn't; I loved that. The picture is still on my parents' wall, those chicks glaring at everyone.

So today I'm torn: Go to NYC to the Occupy Wall Street protests on the 2-month anniversary and soak up history and take photos and you know, BE there, or try and see the Snowy Owl that was hanging out at East Haven yesterday. It's OWS vs. OWL. The inner dialogue is going something like "I'm kind of tired, do I really want to go all the way to the city and tromp around and blah blah..." Then "I might get arrested; I don't want to get arrested" Where did that come from? I'm not really at all scared of being arrested. And "What if it turns violent?" Pfft. Let's face it, I'm just coming up with rational excuses. Neuroscientists have pinpointed the moment that the brain makes a decision, before we even know about it. Then it tells us about it and kindly lets us think that we've made a conscious choice. My brain has already decided that OWL beats OWS, so off I go to try and find that bird...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One of these things is not like the other

We have a new visitor in Milford harbor -- a Pied-billed Grebe. After four years of walking by the harbor every day, you just don't expect to see something different, but there it was all of a sudden a couple of weeks ago. Boink. It popped up from under the water, looking like a rubber ducky compared to the Mallards. And it's stayed around. Now that the weather's getting cold, it's sidling up to the Mallards, coasting along with them. You would think that it might try to do its best to just get along with everyone -- but no, not only is it trying to be a duck, it's trying to be the alpha duck. I saw the cheeky bugger lean forward and bite a female Mallard on the tail, seemingly just for the hell of it, and then dive immediately under the water, leaving just a ripple -- and a confused Mallard turning to look behind her -- in its wake. It was such a soft, fuzzy, fog-advisory Milford day, everything just looked like a Turner painting.
Spot the dinky little interloper
Cue "Jaws" music -- going in for the tail bite

Who? A grebe? You crazy.
Mallards really are beautiful.