Christmas Bird Count, from Dublin to Chiapas

  • These bluebirds showed up at the Von Mertens backyard a few days after a record number of eastern bluebirds (84) were counted in the December 31 Hancock-Peterborough Christmas Bird Count. A near-record 57 made the December 18 Keene count. PHOTO BY FRANCIE VON MERTENS

Published: 1/11/2017 6:16:51 PM

Single-digit cold this Sunday morning. I didn’t venture out to listen for the first chickadee "Dee-dee" song of the year when the sun rose earlier for the first time this winter. I suspect all chickadees were too busy refueling after the long, cold night for any other exertion.

January 1 I also forgot to note what the new year's first bird was. Another tradition broken.

But I did notice as these non-regulars came by the feeders a few days ago.

There were seven bluebirds total, five males and two females. Upon arrival they crowded our two small feeders before taking more orderly turns, including this foursome, two males and two females.

Watching feeders, eager not to miss anything out of the ordinary, I'm reminded of millennials said to be constantly distracted by tweets, text messages, Face Book and the like.

I'm not alone, distracted by what goes on out the window. People send photos of notable feeder visitors, bears and bobcats included, and phone now and again. "I just had to tell someone" often is the gist of the call.

I do the same. The second time a Carolina wren showed up here I managed to get a blurry photo and sent it to a couple birding pals.

Of course this new backyard bird, a member of a species inching its range northward, might have come by many times unobserved.

A lot of local backyard feeders were watched on December 31 for the postponed Christmas Bird Count. As usual teams went out to count birds seen and heard within the prescribed count circle, 15 miles across and centered to include all of Peterborough and Hancock.

I'm on the team that covers that part of Dublin within the circle. Highlight this year was a Wilson's warbler, a first not only for the local count but for all 19 CBC circles in New Hampshire.

It was an honorary bird, however, seen and photographed by longtime Dublin team member Eric Masterson—in Mexico. David Baum, another longtime Dublin team member, "face timed" Eric several times that day, and Eric sent photos of a few birds he was seeing in San Cristobal, Chiapas.

Back in September, Eric was in the news as he departed on his epic human journey, by bicycle, following what he calls the "epic journey" of broad-winged hawks thousands of miles from their northernmost breeding range in Canada to South America.

Most likely Eric's journey will end in Columbia.

We had a jovial time chatting with him. It took a couple dials for David to reach his good friend, and just as Eric answered David interrupted the call with a dramatic “Wait a minute. What’s that? Evening grosbeak. I hear an evening grosbeak.” An evening grosbeak is a very good bird.

In years past, Eric has been the one finding the good birds—actually just about all the birds—as we tagalongs keep the jokes and a certain amount of gossip flowing.

I told Eric that surely his pal David was channeling him in his absence, as it was David who delivered the birds that day. And who pointed that out to Eric more than once. . .

Face time included more than faces. We saw the T-shirt he was wearing, bright red and with words writ large, literally: “DON’T BLAME ME I VOTED FOR HILLARY.” He said it was his protection as he pedaled his way through Mexico.

We closed our last conversation with “We miss you; We love you.” Later, David, Tom Warren, Bill Preston and I talked about Eric’s journey, alone in an unfamiliar landscape, speaking little Spanish. So different from our CBC day exploring the very familiar.

Eric was drawn to birds as a boy in Ireland. They inspire his life, professional and personal. And on his inspired and inspiring journey, the thoughts of many people are traveling with him.

In spring will borrow a bike and pedal to his welcome home celebration.

Carl kept a watch on our feeders, but “our” Carolina wren didn’t make the count.

Just two were seen that day, including one in Dublin at feeders that always deliver at least one new species. There it was, darting about in an artful braiding of wisteria vines near seed feeders and suet. “Pert” is the word that comes to mind for wrens. The Peterson field guide offers “warm reddish brown. . .conspicuous white eyebrow stripe” as ID tips. As for its “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle” song, that is a backyard pleasure I look forward to.

The Carolina wren backyard is a favorite Dublin CBC stop as it includes welcoming hugs and an indoor warm-up. Host Rebecca Welsh is an artist, and one year she greeted us wearing a handmade felted hat with a goldfinch and thistle on it.

I signed up for Facebook just now to keep track of Eric, and notice that Rebecca is, too.

Dublin’s two bible schools also always deliver. Fairwood Bible hosted David Baum’s evening grosbeak, and Dublin Christian delivered bluebirds, two, and one robin.

There’s always something poignant about one robin or one evening grosbeak.

These are gregarious birds. “Gregarious” is a bona fide term for wildlife species naturally found in groups.

Eric’s journey is poignant, too. May he find companions along the way

Backyard Birder by Francie Von Mertens appears every other week in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

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