Randy, from Yarmouth, wanted to know about local birding spots. I told him about a birding trip I had taken to Orleans’ Pochet Island. I explained that a boat isn’t required to access Pochet Island, but visitors do need to make a lengthy walk on the ORV trail that runs along the back side of Nauset Beach. I also explained that Pochet is a private island. However, everyone is welcome to visit, as long as they give the area the respect it deservers. On the day I explored Pochet I kept hearing distant crows screaming at some poor predator. I really wanted to find these crows (and what they were yelling at), but my birding ADD kept kicking in and other birds continuously distracted me. In addition, my time on the island was limited. I only had three hours before the incoming tide would flood the path to the bridge, which was my only boat-less way off the island. (A time limit is not a good thing for a birder with birding ADD.)
Bird watching is such a serendipitous hobby. Sometimes it seems as if there isn’t a single bird to be seen in the entire county; other times birds are like crumbs in the back of a minivan, they’re everywhere. On this day things were pretty quiet, when suddenly a wall of birds exploded in front of me. Their flashing white tail feathers told me they were all juncos. It was my first junco sighting of the season. And although the juncos’ return to our area mean winter is on the way, I was still glad to see them. As I waited for the juncos to settle down, a cedar tree on my left started coming to life. Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were also arriving from the North and apparently this cedar tree was one of their stops. It was full of them. Kinglets remind me of tiny Keystone Cops, always moving, but not in any organized fashion. These tiny birds (and they are indeed tiny, about half the weight of a chickadee) methodically climbed over every single branch in the tree, looking for insects that only they could see. Then, with no warning, they decided it was time to move on to the next tree and the climbing and searching started all over again. Finally, as if to see what the commotion was about, a lone Hermit Thrush popped out of the bushes. The bird briefly looked around and then ducked back down again. I wasn’t surprised the Hermit Thrush was alone. It was just living up to its name.
Pochet is not an uninhabited island. There are several delightful little cottages on it, which I’m sure the owners use in the summer. But on this day I was only one there. I had been walking around for over an hour and had not heard another sound except the wind and me talking to myself (and, of course, the crows that I had yet to find). Then, across the field I saw two people walking towards me. Nuts! There goes my solitude. They were still quite a distance away, so I couldn’t tell if the interlopers were the dreaded dog walkers or hunters (which is prohibited) or worse, other birders. So, I lifted my binoculars in order to get a better look and instantly burst out laughing. The mysterious intruders turned out to be a pair of white-tailed deer. (I think it’s time for me to make an appointment with my optometrist.) Even though my vision isn’t what it once was, I still was able to spot a bird that’s nearly invisible, the aptly named Brown Creeper. With the coloration of a dried leaf, creepers continuously crawl up the sides of trees looking for any hiding insect eggs. While I watched the creeper climb a tree trunk, I noticed a squadron of crows flying in from the “mainland” to join their screaming buddies. I said goodbye to the creeper and raced after the squadron. With so many crows joining the battle, I was positive I was about to find something good.
That’s when I heard a strange sound coming out of the nearby woods. There was a constant chattering of squeaks and squeals, sounding like a clown making balloon animals at a child’s party. I definitely had to check it out. I followed a narrow path that led to a hidden pond. As I said earlier, birding is a serendipitous hobby and this was unexpected indeed: I found a tiny pond filled with beautiful Green-winged Teal. Teal are shy birds, so I had to remain completely hidden to keep from spooking them. As I watched the teal peacefully feeding I started thinking that it was my lunchtime as well, and then it hit me. OMG! The tide! My three hours were up. I hustled down the trail towards the bridge and discovered that the high tide warnings were very real. The path to the bridge was quickly filling in. I did the math and figured that if jumped just right I could safely hop onto the last remaining exposed tufts of grass and make it to the bridge without getting my feet wet. I figured wrong. After only one jump my shoes were totally filled with icy cold, seawater. (The broad jump was never my strong suit.) As I made the long walk back to my car, I once again could hear the sounds of squeaks and squeals, only this time the sounds were coming from my spongy shoes.
Pochet Island is a very special place, Randy. It’s well worth the effort it takes to get there. Just remember that it’s a private property, so don’t ruin the good karma. Also, watch the tides or you’ll end up like me. After I got home I spent the next few hours drying my shoes with my wife’s new hairdryer (don’t tell her) and thinking about my day. Then it hit me. I never did find out what the crows were yelling about. Oh, well. It looks like I’ll have to go back. Sweet!