Down East 2013 ©
I went hunting on May 23. For Birds. Without a shotgun.
Except for the fact I didn’t have my old reliable 12-guage shotgun, hunting for birds with binoculars is very similar to the type of hunting with which I’m more familiar.
Seeking and sensing adventure, I quickly agreed when State Representative Bob Duchense of Hudson invited me to participate in a 24-hour birdathon – a fundraiser for Maine Audubon.
We left Bob and Sandi Duchense’s Pushaw Pond lakeside home in Hudson at 2 a.m. on May 23, and ended our birding adventure at 9 p.m. in Old Town. I called it the Birding Ironman. Bob suggests a better title would be Extreme Birding.
It really was an extreme adventure and a lot tougher physically than I’d expected, mostly because of the overcast drizzly cold windy day, but also because of the amount of walking over rough terrain and the 19 hours of intense concentration as we searched the sky, forest, fields, rivers, lakes, and ocean for birds.
Birds were counted if they were heard or seen and identified by two of the four members of our team, the Raven Loonitics. Well, team would be overstating it because our group consisted of three exceptional birders: Bob, Julie Keene (a veterinarian), and Barry Burgason (a wildlife biologist with Huber Company), and one very big lead weight: me.
Audubon should have given this team a 50-bird handicap, given the uselessness of their fourth member.
Picture yourself at 3 a.m. on a remote northern Maine gravel road, shivering, and listening intently for the hoot of an owl. Gosh, I was cold. And it didn’t warm up much when we got back in the car, because Bob drives along with the window open, listening for birds.
Bob had scouted every stop. “We’ll see a black duck here,” he’d say. And sure enough, there it was.
“This is the only place I can guarantee a Cape May Warbler,” he noted in one spot as we emerged from the car once again into a stiff and chilly headwind. Sure enough, when he played the warbler’s song, it flew out of the trees and landed right above us.
Duchense, in addition to serving in the legislature, is a professional birding guide and the author of The Maine Birding Trail , so he’s familiar with a lot of the state’s habitat and the birds that live there. His knowledge is amazing. And he maintains a great Web site  for birders.
Likewise, my two teammates possessed extraordinary knowledge of the state’s birds. All I could contribute was a hunter’s eye for movement. If it moves, I notice it. “Not sure what it is, but there’s a bird right there in the bottom of that bush,” I’d say.
It was sort of like getting on base with a bunt, hoping your teammates would bring you around the bases. And mine did.
Well, I did identify the wild turkey, but not until Barry blew my chance by spotting it first. Darn my luck to be seated in the back seat of the car beside another guy who hunts.
In addition to knowing the habitat and birds, Bob and Julie utilized amplifiers that played bird songs. Used judiciously, they are very effective. The bird we were seeking always answered, if he or she was nearby. And many times they flew out to see what was up.
As we neared the end of the day, Bob asked about our favorite birds of the day. Watching a Merlin grab a blackbird right out of the air, for lunch, was of course my highlight. But staring at three Upland Sandpipers ten feet from me in a blueberry field was another. And the very colorful and fairly rare Cape May Warbler was a third.
For the record, we identified 119 species of birds. The last was a melodic Brown Thrasher, located right behind a school — just where Bob said he’d be.
While the Thrasher sang through his amazing repertoire of songs, I thanked God that I’d said yes to Bob’s invitation. Who knew that hunting could be this much fun?