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Great Birding At The Stump Dump

Birding the stump dump:

Even though the summer of 2020 will be different, Cape Cod is still a hectic place in July. Finding a quiet location to look for birds can be a challenge, but I think I’ve found one. There are several local areas affectionately known as “stump dumps.” Some stump dumps only have tree stumps and that’s about all. But one of my favorite such dumps also has piles of boulders, mounds of demolished buildings, broken-up septic tanks, a huge sandpit, giant trucks, and more dust than Oklahoma saw in the 1930s. What bird would want to call this place home? It turns out lots of them do. FYI: This site is open to the public and the owners have always been gracious and tolerant of birders. Nevertheless, I’ve decided not to mention the specific location. I don’t want to push my luck.

In order to avoid the trucks and the dust, I arrived early one morning and was immediately met by a coyote. The coyote was busy sniffing around the remains of an old dilapidated Jeep and had zero interest in me. Next up was a young eastern box turtle. I picked up the little creature, as we humans are wont to do, and moved it off the dirt road. Although I couldn’t imagine where it would go since I saw no turtle-friendly habitat anywhere. (Heck, even that Jeep couldn’t survive in this location.) In an oak tree, just above a huge pile of crushed stones, was a cheery-singing male Red-eyed Vireo. As you may have guessed, the bird has red eyes. Ordinarily, the red eyes are hard to see, but not on this day. The morning sun made his eyes glow bright red, like they belonged to a tiny demon…a tiny demon with a cheery song.

Speaking of red demons: On top of a nearby cell tower sat a hawk – a very noisy Red-tailed Hawk. Everyone reading this, whether they know it or not, has heard the red-tail’s iconic call. It’s played in the background of just about every movie ever made. This particular bird must have thought it was auditioning for an upcoming film, as it let out a scream every five to eight seconds for the entire two hours I was there. (Really, I actually timed it.) At first, it creeped me out, but eventually the screams blended into the background, like the sounds of the ocean, only not nearly as romantic.

A more welcomed sight was a Great-crested Flycatcher preening on the top of some lovely power lines. As I went to snap a photo of this well-marked bird, I noticed there was also a second flycatcher, and then a third, and a fourth and a fifth. It was a young family having their first outing together. It was a sweet sight (if I ignored the power lines). The area just up ahead was being guarded by an Eastern Kingbird. Kingbirds, which are also flycatchers, aren’t nearly as sociable as great-cresteds are. While they don’t seem to bother people, kingbirds hate everything else, especially other birds. They will attack any bird, regardless of the size, including crows, herons, jays, hawks and even squirrels. Kingbirds aren’t particular. If a creature, any creature, gets too close, it gets whacked. Next stop: the sandpit. The path to the pit is surrounded by piles of broken chimneys, smashed septic tank covers and all sorts of busted pipes. It looked like London during the Blitz. Could any birds possibly live in this mess? The answer is yes, and they were pretty cool birds at that.

A totally handsome male Indigo Bunting sang from the top of a struggling locust tree. I thought, oh, give me a break. I’ve never even had an Indigo Bunting in my yard, yet here was one singing in one of the most unlikely places. Forget birdfeeders, I should fill my yard with broken chimneys and busted pipes. And speaking of busted pipes: As I stared at the bunting, several Rough-winged Swallows flew past me. Although most casual birders don’t notice them, Rough-winged Swallows are regular breeders on Cape Cod. But what were they doing here, nesting in a busted pipe? Yup. One side of the pit was littered with chunks of demolished buildings. I watched the swallows fly into a jagged piece of PVC pipe, carrying food to their babies somewhere deep inside. (It reminded me of my first apartment.) And speaking of deep: At the bottom of the pit was a weird piece of machinery called a “Waste Manager-300” (really). The WM-300 sat alone at the bottom…well, all alone except for a pair of Eastern Phoebes. The little birds had built a nest under one of the machine’s rusting chunks of metal. Good luck phoebes. I hope you’ve had your tetanus shots.

Then came a bigger surprise. It was the sound of a rattle. No, it wasn’t a snake, thank goodness. It was the rattle call of a Belted Kingfisher. The bird had dug out a nest burrow near the top of a sandbank and was delivering food to the young kingfishers. I don’t get it. This area is miles from the nearest water. What could these fish-loving birds be eating? There was nothing but sand. Oh, right, sand eels. Duh! I next took a walk through a weedy field, hoping to find some odd sparrows. There were no sparrows, but I did come across something big and dark, lying low in the weeds. I thought for sure it was a snapping turtle, until it stood up. It was a mother Wild Turkey with six newly hatched chicks huddling beneath her. It would have been cool to see a snapper, but this was way cuter.

The next noise was the sound of tractors starting and it was time to go. It was a good bird walk, in an improbable location, but I had to get home and tell my wife my new idea for attracting birds. I’m going to fill our backyard with broken chimneys and busted pipes. She’s going to love it.