This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rara Avis on Cape Cod


This is from today's Boston Globe. I was going to post about police brutality in Denver-- but there are other places to go to read about that, and not too many places where one can go to read about the unexpected appearance of beauty. So...and interesting, and wonderful, to note that tonight, when Obama accepts the nomination for president from the Democratic Party, and gives his speech in front of 75,000 people, it's the anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech. Who could argue that we won't be seeing the realization of part of Martin's dream this evening? As someone put it recently, "Rosa sat down so we could stand up so Martin could march so Jesse could run so Obama could win." Amen.


Humdinger of a find
Rara Avis Appears on Cape

By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff August 28, 2008
Sandra and Charles McGibbon, backyard birders, were having dinner on a deck in Dennis when their friends told them to keep their eyes peeled for a hummingbird. It wasn't the ruby-throated hummingbird typically seen on the Cape. They thought it was something special.
Little did they know.
The broad-billed hummingbird was a first-time visitor to Massachusetts and only the second ever spotted in New England. While it may be enjoying a summer on the Cape, it actually belongs somewhere in Arizona.
"My husband and I knew it was something very different," Sandra McGibbon said by phone. "So we came home that night and got on the computer and identified it as best we could."
The discovery of the brilliant adult male hummingbird touched off a birding frenzy this week in Dennis. Visitors from around Massachusetts - and one couple from West Virginia - came for a peek at the hummingbird in Ron and Marjorie Murphy's backyard.
"We're just having fun with it," said Marjorie Murphy, 66, who counted more than 150 signatures on the yellow pad she left outside for visitors. The hummingbird has been accommodating guests, she said, returning for feedings in the morning and evening. A newcomer to bird-watching, Murphy has asked the more seasoned McGibbons - friends who take turns hosting dinner and cribbage every two weeks - because she couldn't find the species in her book of East Coast birds. "There was nothing in there, obviously," she said.
The McGibbons called a master bird bander who documented and banded the bird, and reported the sighting to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, New England Hummers, and MassBird.org, a website sponsored by the New England Birding Journal.
The birders were beside themselves, said Charles McGibbon. "It was like they found the Holy Grail, honest to God," he said.
Then came the inevitable: The bird debuted in its own YouTube video.
The casual observer could be forgiven for concluding that rare bird species have been landing in Massachusetts too often to be called unexpected guests.
The far-fetched visitors here include a red-footed falcon from Africa that stopped over in Martha's Vineyard four years ago and a Ross's gull, native to the Arctic, that entertained birders in Newburyport in 1975. The Massachusetts Avian Records Committee has recorded some 600 sightings of other rare or out-of-range birds that don't belong here.
"Just about anything possible in North America has occurred in Massachusetts or will eventually," said Tom French, assistant director of MassWildlife. The number of out-of-range birds reported in the Bay State stems from the number of birders watching, French said. They never tire of trilling at the unexpected.
"For a lot of people, bird-watching is a game. It's a challenge," said French. " 'What can I find that's unusual next?' And 'If I look hard enough and long enough, I'm going to find something that no one else has.' "
The McGibbons immediately knew they had discovered something uncommon, if not unprecedented, in their friends' backyard. Unlike the ruby-throated hummingbirds found on the Cape, this bird has an iridescent blue throat, a green belly, and a reddish orange bill with a black tip.
After identifying the bird online Saturday night, Charles McGibbon had a hard time sleeping, his wife said. He wished he had gotten a picture. The next morning, they raced back over to take pictures and video and were lucky enough to find the bird was still there.
The Western United States is rich with hummingbirds, some of which wander east. Calliope, Rufous, and black-chinned hummingbirds have all been spotted in Massachusetts. Two years ago, Sandra McGibbon found a Rufous in her garden and had it documented and banded as well.
But usually, McGibbon's yard is home to red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, and a Cooper's hawk. She offers grape jelly to the Orioles that summer on the Cape. Each morning, a pair of Carolina wrens comes to her porch and whistles to demand breakfast by 6:30. She hand-feeds them meal worms.
She has spotted migrating birds including an American redstart and a yellow warbler. But she is not a birder who will travel far and wide to spot and list rare birds.
"No," she said. "I travel out to my back feeder."

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