This Side Up

Summer birds are back


The king has arrived, so watch out.

I’m not talking about city or state politics. Rather this is the king fisher.

They’re magnificent birds that look to have been designed for aerial combat – the F-18 of the avian world. With a proportionally long beak to their body, crested head and sweptback wings they look fast even while perched on my fence post. That’s become one of their lookouts.

I’ve never seen a kingfisher sleep or, for that matter, idly passing the time. They’re always on alert, at attention and ready to take flight with a sputtering chatter.

The kingfisher is the advance guard to a squadron of summer visitors including cormorants, terns, egrets, blue heron and osprey. They’re also the signal for the departure of Bryant geese that extended their winter stay this year. The Bryants are among my favorite visitors. They’re smaller than Canada geese with short necks that at a distance could be mistaken for ducks if it wasn’t for their gregarious nature. They’re incessant communicators. It’s not a honk, or quack. They speak in low tones, sort of a murmur that could be saying, “we’re fine, hope your day is going well.” I’d hear them at all times of day, even into the night as they patrolled the shoreline and every so often go bottoms up as they fed off the bottom.

But summer is here and the Bryants have flown north. The arrivals are here to harvest the bounty of the bay. The fish are in. I spotted schools of two-inch long fish Sunday when I launched my boat for an early morning tour of Occupasstuxet Cove and was greeted by the splash of more than one feeding striper. The tide was high and ebbing. On the shoreline, standing motionless, were white sentinels, egrets of different sizes. They didn’t budge as I glided by on the glassy water.

I stopped at the Cole Farm home of Bill and Irene Donahay. They’re snowbirds and like the egrets leave for Florida to beat the winter weather.

As I walked up from the narrow beach, a startled mallard rose with a flap from their lawn. From their cars I knew they were there, but no one came to the door when I rang. And while they are earlier risers, I figured 6 was too early. I pushed off and continued north into the cove. A blue heron stood watch from the shore and as I went the visa of green and yellow fields bordered by dark green trees on one side and a few homes nestled into the banks of the other side opened up. The scene could be from a remote island off the coast of Maine, if it weren’t for the reminder this is Warwick with the wail of a siren on Warwick Avenue and the roar of jets.

On the way back the Donahays had the coffee brewing. We caught up on the news – differed on whether the PawSox was a good deal for Rhode Islanders – and shared stories before it was time for Irene to leave for church. I returned to the boat, quickly clearing the moorings off Cole Farm. There are many moorings, but few boats. This has been a slow year for many boaters.

Maybe they have taken heed of the kingfisher and decided not to launch this year.

Honestly, I doubt that is the case. But I know they, like me, have been tortured by the birds. The villains are the terns, cormorants and to a lesser degree the gulls. Last year my sailboat became tern central. Despite my efforts to dissuade them with deer netting, streamers and strings to make it difficult to stand on the boom, dozens of the birds made my boat the place to hang out between sorties to snatch fish from the waters. They frequently left their unfinished meals, along with other deposits staining the cockpit cover white and rendering a foul odor.

The cormorants and gulls are equally disrespectful. The gulls leave the remnants of spider crabs, mussels and quahogs along with soupy deposits that can harden into cakes.

Thankfully, the kingfishers fly solo and have no use for boats.

But I knew his warning, or maybe I had it all wrong.

Was he calling to his feathered companions: “the fish are in and the boat’s on the mooring…come get ‘em.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment