Saturday, January 19, 2008
A Little Night Magic
Eight pairs of eyes watched as the sky blushed and the sun slunk further toward the horizon. Eight pairs of binoculars scanned every movement of the dozen or so Harriers that coursed back and forth over the marsh. Seeking. Hoping. Flocks of geese arrowed their way home for the night unnoticed. The wind blew damp and cold across the water. The excitement was palatable.
The birders had arrived singly and in pairs to witness the magical transition of day to night. They talked quietly among themselves. One man was there for the first time this year. Another and his wife were visiting from England. One woman had been there before and knew what to expect. We were winding up a fruitful day of birding and were not yet ready to go home.
The sun finally sunk behind the hill and a different bird appeared far out over the water. They all strained to make out the bird in the gloaming. Was it a Harrier? Hmmm, maybe not. Does it have a white rump? Yes? No? No! Could it be?
Ala Ka Zam! As if by magic the Harriers disappeared and were replaced by Short-Eared Owls. First there was one far in the distance. Then several others were scrutinized for field marks. Finally one flew above the dark hills into the fading glow of the sunset. The bird’s silhouette and its barking call clinched the ID. A collective sigh mingled with the clouds of breath.
The birders stayed in the dropping temperatures stomping their feet until it was too dark to see. The barking stopped and the birds flew off silently now into the full dark to hunt for their daily mouse. The birders slowly got into their cars to go home for their own evening meal. The last to leave, we relinquished the nighttime marsh to the denizens of the dark.