I’ve spoken in past columns about the efforts to preserve the Common Pasture. Numerous conservation organizations including Essex County Greenbelt, Trust for Public Lands along with the town of Newbury and city of Newburyport, and efforts and contributions of many individuals, have made tremendous strides in preserving what remains as open property east of Route 95 between Scotland Road and Hale Street.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the dedication of an observation platform that was erected on the edge of one of the parcels, Wet Meadows, on Scotland Road. That platform was dedicated to the memory of two individuals who aided in the preservation effort, Lawrence Jodrey and Gerald Soucy. Together, they were birders extraordinaire and key mentors for me in my early years of birding, as well as many others.
They led numerous Newburyport and Rockport trips for the Brookline Bird Club and they were always birding around the Newburyport area. Larry’s “CURLEW” and Jerry’s “AVOCET” license plates on their respective vehicles were regular sights at birding hotspots. The two were always together and they were simply known as “Larry and Jerry” or “Jerry and the Judge.” In the 1960s, they sometimes had famed birder and author John Keiran riding in the back seat of the car; more often, there was a new protégé, Tom Martin, now of Boxford, a fellow teen and birding friend of mine at the time. In later years, it was their beloved poodle Brandy, who accompanied them. But they were always together, Larry and Jerry. I can’t say that I ever saw one in the field without the other — not ever.
Larry and Jerry made sure that of their fellow birders in the area were aware if any special birds appeared for a visit. They would stop on the road and tell you what was around and, since there were no cell phones back then, they would often drive out of their way to find people to tell, or they would stay with the bird until others arrived. That is rare these days. If they were at home and heard of a rare bird, they would call everyone they knew. They always shared their sightings and their birding knowledge with all who would listen. And listen we did.
Larry and Jerry were always conscious of — and often vocal about — the loss of habitat that they witnessed over the years. The Common Pasture were always close to their hearts, as they birded in the area often. They had treasured the song of the Upland Sandpiper (or plover, as it was called in those days) perched on a short cedar tree on this breeding ground. They enjoyed watching rough-legged hawks, harriers and short-eared owls hunt the open fields. But they, like many of us, also saw much of the open grasslands replaced by industrial buildings. They mourned the loss of land to development, and the disappearance of some of these birds to the area as a result.
But they didn’t just spread an awareness to the loss of habitat. They contributed monetarily to Essex County Greenbelt, and other conservation organizations, to help preserve this beautiful landscape and valuable habitat for birds and other wildlife. So it is fitting that an observation platform in that tranquil spot, overlooking the habitat and birds that they helped preserve, should be dedicated to them and their spirit for conservation.
I am a better birder today for having had Larry and Jerry as mentors, teachers, and, especially, as friends. We are all thankful for their contributions to birding and to the preservation of this property that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.