I have always been pulled between being a loner and longing to be part of the crowd. As a child, I kept to myself. As I got older, I made friends along the way. One became my husband (MH). He, too, is a loner, but is not much troubled by that fact. Watching birds is an ideal activity for a loner, although it is often done in a group. I find groups have a tendency to rush along and talk, and I would rather go at my own pace and listen to the singing. Even with MH, I find I bird differently than when alone.
It is when birding the loner and the longer come together.
The other day, at a pond in the middle of a suburban NJ office park, a Pacific loon was discovered. It was publicized on the NJ bird list, which I read. The office park is on the outskirts of my town, which made it imperative for MH and me to see it as soon as we could.
What was it doing there? I don’t know, but weather conditions have been pretty strange this year. This loon is an unusual visitor east of the Continental Divide, but they’ve been reported before. The office park pond, which was not frozen, must have been an appealing sight.
Except in winter, loons are found on lakes and ponds. In winter, when those ponds freeze, they are usually found along the coast. The common loon and its smaller relative, the red-breasted loon, are the Eastern loons you’re likely to see at Barnegat Lighthouse, along the Jersey Shore, for instance.
In winter, they are all black and white and gray. What gave this one away were the shadings of gray and the bill – not as stout as the common loon; not as thin and upturned as the red-throated.
When we got there, we found ourselves in a crowd, but smaller than expected. We were all friendly, talking shop, field marks, or other birds recently seen in the state. As usual, for a while there, I felt I belonged.
And yet, when they started talking about people whose names I don’t know, but they see all the time in their travels, I knew I was not part of this group. I won’t be going south to Florida to see the birds heading north with them, or trekking to Belize or Mexico.
As this point I usually wonder, when does enjoyment of the birds become an obsession? If you spend your life doing nothing but running around to find and tick off birds every time one is reported, is it much of a life?
I admit, I daydream of dropping everything and doing nothing but bird. But bills have to be paid. The loner wins.