Sunday, May 8, 2011

How I got into birding

This beautiful, almost full breeding plumage drake King Eider was found on the beach at the 'false hook' on Sandy Hook today. When word reached me about this bird on the hawk platform, I didn't have to think long about packing up my stuff and going out there. As I reached the end of Fisherman's Trail, the sight of a group of birders with their scopes all pointed in the same direction was a hopeful sign and sure enough, there it was. This is likely the same bird that was found more than a week ago in Horseshoe Cove, elsewhere on the Hook.

King Eider is probably a little less rare here than it is in western Europe, but when I started birding, King Eider was the first true rarity that I saw. I must have been 14 or 15 years old. For a long time, it remained for me the emblematic rare bird, an arctic visitor so beautiful it looked out of place in the industrialized Dutch seaport's harbor of IJmuiden. Since that memorable first bird - also a drake in near-breeding plumage - I have seen a few others, in duller plumages.

Eventually, a juvenile Bald Eagle spooked it; the King Eider flew off toward the ocean, and for all we know may now finally be on its way to the high arctic.

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