Friday, October 31, 2008

The Dangers Of Listing!

It was a cool Fall morning with the temperatures only in the 40's. I parked along the side of a dirt road and started to gather my birding gear as I usually do; vest, field guide, camera, notebook, pen, and of course, binoculars.

As I walked around the perimeter of the pond, I could see fog rising off of the water. I reached the entrance to a trail that would lead me deep into a little known area of Connecticut woods. Although I wouldn't consider myself a lister, I decided that I would try to find at least 35 species this morning. I didn't want to pick a number that would be too difficult to reach. I figured 35 would be just enough to make a game out of it. The first species I saw was a Blue Jay that hopped out on the edge of a gnarled Oak Tree branch. It called out with brashly with an its alarm that sounded like- thief! thief! thief! The Jay scraped its bill across the bark at an angle that showed off its crest nicely. I started to add to the list as I moved along : Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Belted Kingfisher, White-throated Sparrow, American Crow, and Chipping Sparrow were quickly added to the list. I went a bit further and a loud squeeeak! came for the top of the top of a dead tree-Northern Flicker-#9, 21 more to go. A Red-shouldered Hawk cried out kyear kyear and flew from a nearby tree to another one further off in the distance.

As I approached a chain-lined fence reached the first fence, I noted my species count was at 17 .

I really don't want to specify the exact location I was birding in. It is a private area surrounded by multi-million dollar homes with advanced security systems. Behind the homes is a large tract of woods which is of limits to the public. It is bordered by an old chain link fence covered with vines and hidden behind heavy shrubs. A friend of mine who does landscaping told me about a portion of the fence which had been pulled away, creating an opening through which to enter. I crawled through the opening , pushing away the vines and shrubs as I forced my way through. My shirt temporarily got caught on a sharp piece of the metal making my adrenaline rise as I didn't want to get caught in the act.

Many years ago, when I was just a young boy, I used to fish in this area with my father. I miss the days when we were able to catch feisty native trout in some of the streams that run through here. They were darker than the stocked varieties and covered with brightly colored spots.

I couldn't find any trails so I had to walk straight up the middle of a small stream. I continued to walk for about a mile. Most of the stream was fairly shallow and the banks were lined with a massive tangle of shrubs and thickets. I added Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, and White-breasted Nuthatch along the way. As I was climbing out of the stream bed, I slipped and managed to get one of my feet wet. Fortunately, I had extra socks in my vest.

An old trail went at least 2 miles deeper into the woods before leading me to another fenced in area. I remembered my father warning me to stay away from this particular neck of the woods. He never went into much detail as to why I should stay away, just that it was dangerous. Over the years I have heard stories about this area. Everything from UFOs, government experiments, haunted woods, to Bigfoot like creatures were rumoured to have been seen here. I wasn't buying any of it. The UFOs were probably attributable to swamp gas or some sort of military aircraft. The Bigfoot-like creatures were reported by kids but they may have been Black Bears which have been known to wander through on occasion. Still, other people have said they have heard strange voices seeming to come from underground. If you've ever spent long periods of time in the deep woods like I have, it's easy for your imagination to get carried away. The sounds of trees rubbing together on a windy day can create eerie sounds that can make your imagination run wild.

The second fence would be much tougher to penetrate. As I approached it, a Gray Catbird popped on top of a shrub near the fence. It let out several of it cat squawks as I approached it, almost as if it were forbidding me to go in-"hello to you Mr. Catbird"! I said to it quietly.
I was thinking maybe I could climb it but with barbed wire at the top, this would be a very difficult task. instead, I followed it along the edge for about 300 yards before coming to a spot where it appeared that some of the soil had eroded from underneath the fence. It was filled in with some small boulders so I started to pull them out and throw them aside. After all of them had been removed, there was a trench leading under the fence that was almost big enough for me to squeeze under. I spent the next 20 minutes digging the hole out to make it bigger using a large, flat, rock as a tool. I got on my back and wiggled my way through to the other side.

The habitat in the second area was a little more open. There were thick areas of Mountain Laurel, a small swamp, evergreens, and mixed hardwoods. I walked away from the fence into a wooded area. I could hear the drops of dew falling from the trees, dampening the layer of leaves that now coated the ground. A Red-bellied Woodpecker flew over to the top of a dead standing tree. My view of the woodpecker was obstructed but I could hear it tapping its bill on the hollowed wood. Its pattern of tapping was interesting as it seemed to vary in speed and intensity. It reminded me of Morse code, which I had learned from a chart on the front of my walkie- talkies when I was a kid. They had a little red button that we pushed to send Morse Code signals to each other. Just for laughs, I followed the pattern of the woodpecker's tapping to see if I could come up with some letters. This is what I came up with: I_tr_der. I couldn't figure out the 2nd and 4th letter but I found it an odd curiosity that if the letters were n and u , it would spell out the word intruder. Of course woodpeckers don't know Morse code so this was just a strange coincidence. Still, the pattern of its tapping seemed unusual. The Red-bellied Woodpecker was my 33rd bird, so I only needed two more to reach my goal of 35.

I came to a patch of shrubs too thick to get past so I worked my way back out toward the fence. It was then that I saw a Black-capped Chickadee fly from the outside of the fence and land in a nearby tree. that was number 34. It let out a chicka-dee-dee-ee call. Immediately after that 3 more chickadees darted in and surrounded the first bird. I noticed something different about these other ones though. All three of them had a large white patch around their eyes. It made their eyes look as if they were bulging out. That's not all either. These birds had a different call that I had never heard from any other chickadees. It was a louder, slower and raspier call that sounded more like a checka-checka-dee-duh-duh-dee. I know that certain birds can be partially albino but these chickadees were huge by chickadee standards. They were more like the size of a Fox Sparrow, with larger bills too. What are the odds of seeing three birds like this? Very strange. What happened next I found to be very disturbing. I can't even bring myself to describe the way these 3 chickadees reacted towards the normal chickadee. I felt awful for the poor bird desperately trying to defend itself against the others but in the end it didn't have a chance. As much as it would be exciting to discover some new species, I hope these birds aren't capable of reproducing more of their kind.
-Note: After they are done checking the video and photos for authenticity, I will post them on this blog for those of you who are interested in seeing them. I will have to take them down after that because they would be too upsetting to look at for most people.
After my disturbing encounter with the mutant chickadees, I decided that I had enough birding for the day. I really didn't care any more whether or not I reached my goal of 35 species. I took a short cut by cutting across a small stream. Then I picked up a wide dirt trail on the other side. I was looking down admiring my shadow when I heard something large passing through the woods along side me. I was thinking it might be a deer but I was shocked when I caught a brief glimpse of what looked to be a man(or woman) wearing a black hooded sweatshirt moving rapidly through the woods. Why wouldn't they use the path? I wondered. They ran so fast that he was out of my sight within seconds. I started running a little myself because at this point, I really wanted to get out of there. I climbed on top of a big rock and looked downward to the bottom of a steep hill. I could see a large rock ledge with an opening to some sort of cave leading into it. I could also make out what looked to be some sort of metal table set up in the opening of the cave . It was what I saw next that absolutely shocked me! (I wish that I could describe it to you but I was told that I have to block out the next paragraph until they are finished with their investigation).
I was so scared that I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Still, I felt that I needed to get more photos as evidence but my memory card was full. I remembered that my old memory was still in my camera case so I quickly changed cards. After snapping off another 50 photos, I started running, trying to retrace my steps to where I started. Finally I started to see some familiar territory and knew that I didn't have much further to go. I stopped to catch my breath and saw two woodpeckers that looked like either Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers. They were acting very agitated, making a lot of loud Pik! and squeak! noises as they moved erratically around the base of a large tree. Either species would have brought my total up to 30. I bent down to tie my shoe and both of them buzzed so close by my head that I think they might have actually made contact with my hair. That was the last thing that I remembered.
When I first opened my eyes, I was very disoriented. Everything was dark and I was lying on something that was very uncomfortable that had some sort of ridges on it. I started to panic a little. What time is it? Were people looking for me? I didn't like that feeling. Then it dawned on me where I was. I was lying in the bed of my pickup truck. The ribbed thing I was lying on was my plastic bed liner. It was dark because I had a black vinyl top covering the back. I pried up the back of the cover and opened the tailgate. It was still daylight--phew!!! -But what on earth had happened to me? I wasn't hurt . My camera was missing but I still had my binoculars and my notebook. My last 50 pictures were gone with my camera but I still had all of the photos on my first card. I looked at my notes to try to help piece things together. As I was looking over the ABA checklist of birds I noticed that someone... or something, had added another species to my list. There was a small but prominent hole poked through the checklist immediately to the right of what would be my 35th species, Hairy Woodpecker-number 35. Listing birds can be a very dangerous game.

I'm sure it's obvious that this post is completely fictional but I just wanted to make this clear. I saw no mutant chickadees, Morse-Code tapping woodpeckers or hooded people. I didn't break through any fences or get transported to my truck in a state of unconsciousness.


Ruth said...

Well this is the best Halloween fiction I have read this year. You sucked me in for a while, but the scary mutant chickadees...well unless this was a radioactive dump!

Berder said...

Whoa I read it again, then one more time, and finally third. Happy Halloween. Great Post!
Mutant Chickadees =D

Larry said...

ruth-Well at least I had you going for a little bit anyway.-Glad you got a kick out of it.

berder-Thanks-I was thinking anonymous people might send me hate mail.That's what happene the last time I posted something off the wall like this.

Jayne said...

LOLOL... I was going along too for a bit there Larry....whew... glad it was all fiction. You write well!!! BRAVO! (Though I am a wee bit disappointed not to see the mutant chickadees.)

Larry said...

Jayne-thanks-glad you enjoyed it. It was just something a little different for fun.-Hopefully,you can visualize the mutant chickadees in your mind.

Crafty Green Poet said...

oh this is excellent, very entertaining.

When I was visiting Vienna I saw what i thought were mutant great tits (quite similar to chickadees) and it was only years later I found out it was a sombre tit. For that reason i was almost taken in with the chickadee part of your story, well until the bad behaviour started...

steadyjohn said...

Awww..shoot Larry; you spoiled it with your disclaimer. I wanted to believe!

troutbirder said...

Holy Cow.... that was a fun read. I should have known being Holloween and all. Interesting pictures too. p.s Thansk for visiting my blog also.

NCmountainwoman said...

What a great Halloween spooky story. You had me going for a while. Nice post.

Larry said...

steadyjohn-I would have liked to make it more realsitic and then leave out the disclaimer but it would cause me some problems in the long run.-Sorry to spoil yor fun.

Troutbirder-Thanks and your welcome. How can I not visit a troutbirder blog? I like catching trout and watching birds.

ncmountainwoman-thanks-glad you enjoyed it.

Larry said...

steadyjohn-I would have liked to make it more realsitic and then leave out the disclaimer but it would cause me some problems in the long run.-Sorry to spoil yor fun.

Troutbirder-Thanks and your welcome. How can I not visit a troutbirder blog? I like catching trout and watching birds.

ncmountainwoman-thanks-glad you enjoyed it.

spookydragonfly said...

Hi Larry...You have a great sense of humor! I enjoyed your story...oh, I mean "adventures"!
Thanks for visiting my blog, I just got done loading some bird photos, checked my comments, and there you were! What a coincidence!

Lana Gramlich said...

Cripes, man! You nearly scared the crap out of me with this one! *LOL* Thanks for the Halloween romp. :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe my wife is right. Maybe you could be a mass murderer! See you on Wednesday!

P.S. I definitely plan on listing!

steadyjohn said...

Mass Murderer NO, Mass Birderer for sure!

Larry said...

spookydragonfly-Glad you enjoyed the story.I enjoyed visiting your blo as well.

lana-I actually scared you a litte-good!

Pa-birder-Ouch! Tell Mrs. Gauthier not to worry. I'm just an easy-going birder who belongs to the Audubon. I don't think there will be any dangers to listing at Hammonasset-looking forward to it.

Steadyjohn-Thanks for the vote of confidence John!

LauraHinNJ said...

You had me going for a bit Larry!


Larry said...

Laurahinnj-My hope was that people would buy into it long enough to read the post.

Where's my trash can?-I noticed that I repeated one of my replies but no trash can is showing to delete comments.-Anyone else having that problem?

Mary said...

THANK GOD! Naive, I am. And started sweating about the mutant Chickadees - wondering where's the video?

And, slipping under that barbed wire fence made me wonder about you, Larry :o)

I love this fiction. I was on the edge of my seat thinking, OK - I know Larry's a lister but he's gone way too far this time....


RuthieJ said...

Wow Larry, that was a great story! You have a talent for writing and you had me convinced this was true almost to the end. When I saw that fence with barbed wire I was mentally saying, "Larry, don't go there!"
Thankfully you escaped unharmed, but it was sure a good tale. (I've been a mystery fan since probably about 3rd grade.)

MaryAnn Ashley said...

Great story... gosh you had me going there for a while.

Larry said...

Mary and Ruthiej-Thanks -Knowing that I had you two buying it and all bent out of shape made it worthwhile!

Maryann-thanks for visiting my blog.-Glad you liked the story too.

We had a power outage today that sent a surge into my computer.-It may be done for good-I'm borrowing someone else's computer to do this.
I don't know when and how I'll be able to post again.

Birdinggirl said...

Very entertaining Halloween read Larry! I wish I read it on the actual day! Birding alone in the woods can be scary- this story isn't so far-fetched for those of us with active imaginations.

Larry said...

birdinggirl-Actually, the fact that I posted it on Halloween was more coincidence than anything else.-It did seem to fit though.

dguzman said...

You had me going there for a while! You so crazee.

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, this was awesome! I, too, was sucked in for awhile and still wondering if all of this was true until the very end! You have a writer in you for sure!

Larry said...

dguzman--So I've heard.

Kathiebirds-Writer? Up North they refer to it as bs-ing.-But thanks for the compiment.