Grand Isle: Ferry Landing (and an Introvert’s Lament)

By josh • 251 Birds, Nature, Wildlife • 22 Jan 2015

Grand Isle (Grand Isle County)
Ferry Landing
Town #49

Anyone who has been following the birding scene in Vermont for the past month or so can guess what I was doing up in Grand Isle at the Ferry Landing on Monday.  A Harlequin Duck has been hanging around there since mid-December.  Harlequin Duck is a pretty unusual bird for Vermont, maybe a once-every-five-years sort of bird if eBird is any indication.  I finally managed to make it up to the islands with my Dad and the boys on Martin Luther King Day, since it’s the rare day off that isn’t pre-committed with swimming lessons, kid yoga, or skiing lessons this time of year.

I don’t have any worthy photos to share, though I did get a few record shots.  The Harlequin kept its head tucked into its back the whole time we were there, even when it was motoring around with the surrounding Mallards.  It did pick its head up for just a moment when a Mallard snapped at it, but it went right back to a sleeping posture once it was in the clear.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to put down a few thoughts about twitching.  I’m not a twitcher by any stretch, though I keep close tabs on various lists and plan obsessively to maximize my birding every time I travel.  Here in Vermont there are only a few regular species that remain to be added my state list (including a couple of particularly irritating nemeses), so anything I add will be a result of me finding rarities on my own or, more likely given how little time I’m able to spend in the field, chasing down rarities that someone else has located.

Sadly I don’t really enjoy this type of birding at all.  Granted, this particular instance was pleasant because it meant getting to spend some extra quality time with my father and my kids, but twitching after birds someone else has found usually ends up feeling like a chore rather than something I want to be doing.  I love birding because I like to be outdoors in solitude or in the company of a few close friends.  I like the intense sensory focus and the way that birding takes me outside my own head for a bit.  Being outside and looking for birds (or other things) is a respite from social anxieties and the types of pressures that can be imposed by other people.

At the risk of seeming antisocial, arriving at a place with a pile of birders lined up with their scopes looking at something interesting has little appeal for me.  It’s not that I don’t like the people–birders in Vermont are uniformly lovely and helpful and kind!–but rather that the reasons that I go out looking for birds aren’t fulfilled by this type of experience.  I’m always pleased to see the excitement on others’ faces when they find the target bird and I’m very happy that folks are finding a social outlet in a positive, nature-oriented environment, but it nearly always leaves me cold.  I find myself itching to see the bird and leave rather than sticking around to truly ‘watch’ it or enjoy the fellowship.

My listing has suffered from this, I’m afraid, which pains me as a compulsive listkeeper in every part of my life.  I didn’t make an effort at the Prairie Falcon and Yellow-headed Blackbird earlier this winter, and I’m sure I’ll miss some big ones this year too.  So I’ll just muddle on, enjoying my birding as I can in my own way (as everyone should do, right?), and hope that fulfillment of the listing impulse and fulfillment of the solitude impulse are not too often in conflict.

Anyway, here’s the list and the map:

  • American Black Duck (6)
  • Mallard (65)
  • Harlequin Duck (1)
  • Common Goldeneye (4)
  • Common Merganser (5)
  • American Crow (1)


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