Walking the point count
We are counting birds for science, my mother and I. Plummer’s Hollow is part of the Bald Eagle Ridge Important Bird Area (IBA 32). We walk without words through the dawn forest — screech owl, worm-eating warbler — as the sky changes guard, our stops carefully measured: one minute to wait for our arrival to quit sending out ripples, then three minutes of counting every song and call and scanning holes in the canopy for wings: American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, chimney swift.
My job is to jot down the names as Mom whispers them: Hooded warbler. Scarlet tanager. Acadian flycatcher. Two red-eyed vireos. I watch the second hand come around, call time, and we walk the 500 feet to the next spot, taking three and a half hours to circle our mountaintop farm, ridgetop to ridgetop, half-way down the hollow and back. There are 16 points in all, the last on my parent’s front porch. Brown thrasher, ruby-throated hummingbird.
As I walk, I jot down notes for another list, one I know I won’t have the heart to finish: 25 things that make me sad. The oil spill in the Gulf, climate change, mountain-top removal, white nose syndrome, poverty and over-consumption… The way the land looked just 30 years ago, when I was a kid. How many more invasive species there are now. Our shrinking population of wood thrushes, the loss of that incomparable music, which this morning’s numbers should help document.
If we can’t learn to save, at least we can begin a more accurate accounting. Blue-gray gnatcatcher, red-bellied woodpecker, cardinal, common crow. This is our fifth year walking the point count. We hope to continue for decades, and find others to keep it going after we’re gone.