Happy April Fool’s Day!
Each April first, for the past eighty years, I’ve written about some factitious birding event. For the most part, readers have found these columns to be entertaining…but not everyone. Last year, one humorless lady called me a nasty name. It’s a name that rhymes with “glass bowl.” (You do the math.) This year, with everyone on edge due to the scary virus, I decided it might not be a good time to fool folks. Instead, I’m going to mention a few highlights from past AFD columns. The silliness in these stories seems obvious now, but at the time…
My very first (in 2001) AFD column, and still my favorite, was about a colony of puffins that were (wink) nesting in a 1959 Range Rover in Wellfleet. The vehicle had become trapped by an extreme high tide off of Jeremy Point. The colorful puffins annually built nests in the trunk, under the seats and in the glove box of the old 4X4. In order to keep the Park Service from towing the vehicle away, an anonymous person would trek out to the Point each spring and place a new beach sticker on the rusting wreck. This first story garnered very little attention, until a few years later when a reporter from the Cape’s daily newspaper approached me about the puffins. He wanted to visit the colony and write an updated piece about it. Ha! I let him down easy.
The next year, a pair of Golden Eagles nested on the water tower near Marconi Beach. The presence of the rare birds forced the Park Service to close some of the beaches and to temporarily relocate its headquarters to the empty Bradlees building in Orleans. Nobody really was too upset by this story, except for a few Park employees who didn’t want to move into Bradlees. The following year, I wrote about a new development in Brewster’s Nickerson State Park. To generate revenue, the State decided to turn vital Wood Duck habitat into a water park. This sounds bad, but the State (according to my story) had figured out a way to allow both the ducks and people use the area at the same time. There was just one catch: swimmers were required to wear organic swimsuits made out of burlap. The story elicited a number of enraged responses from campers, but one off-Cape woman wanted to purchase (really) one of the burlap swimsuits for her mother, who had an allergy to other fabrics. I let her down easy, too.
In 2006, I mentioned that Burrowing Owls were nesting underneath “invisible” wind turbines in the dunes of Provincetown. At first, not many folks believed the story (with the exception of one confused guy in Marstons Mills). Then I received a call from a young student in Wareham. She was doing a school project on owls and wanted her mother to drive her to Provincetown so she could see the birds in person. Oops! I think I eventually smoothed things over with the mom, but I’m sure the kid, who must be an adult by now, still hates me. (Hey, maybe she’s the “glass bowl” lady.) A winter storm in 2008 uncovered the fossilized remains of a “Gynormous larkosuros,” a 185 million-year-old dinosaur-bird that had been buried in the sand at Nauset Beach. Several actual museums called me about the discovery, but my favorite response was from a guy in Buzzards Bay. He had made the long drive to Orleans to see the huge fossil, even though his wife thought he was an idiot. (I know that feeling.) The guy arrived at the beach, found out that the story was a spoof, got into his car and drove directly to my store. Uh-oh! But instead of being upset, he told me how much he loved the story. It was his highlight of the year, he said. I liked this guy.
The column that caused the most flack happened in 2010, when I reported on a pair of European White Storks nesting on the roof of the Captain Penniman House in Eastham. This story itself was pretty harmless, but I made the mistake of announcing that members of the Dutch government (the storks had originated from the Netherlands) would be part of a welcoming ceremony. Three irate women drove in from Rhode Island and one elderly Dutch national was driven from a Plymouth nursing home, with a rented oxygen tank, to see some of his Dutch countrymen. That was a long day.
But the column that is still being talked about was the 2011 draining of the Cape Cod Canal. The footings of the bridges needed some serious repair, so steel bulkheads were lowered from the train bridge to block the flow of incoming seawater. The receding tide exposed the Canal floor and attracted thousands of birds that fed on the trapped fish. Our phone rang nonstop. In addition to concerned citizens, we received calls from the Steamship Authority, the Army Corps of Engineers and even AAA, for some reason. I thought for sure the Army was going to send a drill sergeant after me, but they actually went along with the gag. They even posted a Photoshopped picture of the drained Canal on their website. Phew!
Other columns included coyote-eating Mammoth Eagles, sharks that came onto land to feed on gulls, and a Barnstable zoo that featured trained cardinals jumping through hoops of fire. Parts of these columns had serious tones, but they were also filled with obvious hints and blatant exaggerations (invisible wind turbines?). Readers have mostly gotten a kick out of the annual stories, but there have been a few glass bowls as well. I’ll likely write a new fictitious column next year (if we make that far). In the meantime, happy April Fool’s Day, everyone…and don’t forget to wash your hands.