, Newburyport, MA


May 6, 2013

And I always hear them singing


When excitement subsides, the narrator turns and surprises me: “By the way, I want to compliment you for describing that bird the right way.”

I must look puzzled, thinking, “If I wanted to know what it was, why would I describe it the wrong way?”

The compliment is a disguise, a way to let me know that he knows I am not a birder. He anticipates my reaction: “Always start with the size. That’s what you did.”

“Does that mean I get another question?”

He laughs, and I press my luck. But he can only guess at my description of a sparrow-sized, jet-black bird with yellow markings on its wings and a red underside. Red-breasted grosbeak? House finch?

Likely a red-winged blackbird with yellow I only imagined. Admitted spying it early one morning before coffee kicked in, perhaps still enthralled by those hyper-piping yellow warblers, those serene swan, that hilarious king eider, that solitary great grey, that ethereal snowy white, that imperious eagle, that beguiling peregrine, that defiant catbird, that nonchalant red tail or any of Plum Island’s many recurrent cardinals or blue jays.

“Northern cardinals,” he corrects me.

No way will I admit that my entire expertise in birding is having seen “The Big Year” 10 times only because I’m a projectionist at the downtown art cinema.

We depart together, and he may think I’m looking to board one of their two mini-vans or their Crown Vic for their birding trip to the island’s southern tip, as he seems to avoid my eye. When he holds a door open for an elderly woman, I’m tempted to give him a start by feigning to step in.

Flippantly: “No, I don’t need a ride, but one more question, please?”

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