Birds of a Feather

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here.

A reader named Rick, who lives in Belfast, was the winning bidder on lunch with me (I asked him if the was the only bidder and he said no, but he may have been being polite) and a signed copy one of my books, DAMAGED GOODS. This book, McMorrow No. 9,  was appropriate because it’s set in the coastal town of Galway, Maine, which is a lot like Belfast. And I mean a lot.

So Rick and I ate in a booth in Darby’s Restaurant, had a very pleasant conversation (he retired to Maine from the midwest), and a stroll around downtown Belfast to see some of the locations McMorrow frequents in the book. Rick read DAMAGED GOODS  that week and was kind enough to send me a note saying that he’d liked it very much. (Authors pretend not to need this sort of positive reinforcement but most of them are lying.)

But Rick’s first reaction was interesting. He said he could tell I was a birder because there are birds all through the book. And I suppose there are, though I’ve never sent McMorrow out with his binoculars and field guide. But my reporter protagonist is aware of his surroundings, natural and otherwise, and if you live in Maine in the the country it’s very likely that you’re surrounded by birds. And if you know birds at all, you can’t help but notice what’s out there.

No surprise that writers share their interests with their characters. (Melville sent his characters whaling; Fitzgerald’s books were about the social circles he inhabited).  McMorrow and I share some qualities, I guess (both fearless, handsome, intrepid), including an awareness of birds. When I step outside in the early morning I look up at the sky, the trees, and listen. Often there are a dozen or more birds calling at once and I run through the list as I walk to the road to get the newspaper. Orioles, various warblers, sometimes an osprey, crows, chickadees, vireos, robins, bluejays, cardinals, thrushes, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, a pileated woodpecker drumming. To some people it’s just a cacaphony, I suppose, a lot of chirping and tweeting. For me and McMorrow it’s much more than that.

So that’s the explanation for the bird thing. To me birds are as much of the landscape as the clouds in the sky. And when I describe the Maine landscape in my books, birds have to be there.

One morning last week I woke up at 3 a.m. to a wonderful hooting sound. Outside, close to the house, a great horned owl was calling. Another answered. It was a territorial call, from what I’ve read and heard; maybe there’s a nest nearby. My plan is to take an iPod out some night soon and see if I can call a Great Horned in.

It was very cool. So don’t be surprised if, in an upcoming McMorrow novel, a great horned owl awakens Jack as well. Fun how that happens, art imitating life. In fact, it’s a hoot.

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3 Responses to Birds of a Feather

  1. John Clark says:

    Birds are one of the aspects that make working outside so pleasurable. Even though we’re in town, we have a pileated woodpecker visit regularly and can hear loons on the river behind the cemetery across the street. My two favorite bird calls go back to growing up on Sennebec Hill Farm; whippoorwills and bitterns. I seldom hear either any more.

  2. Gerry Boyle says:

    Hi John:
    I hear the bitterns on the marsh but whippoorwills only on CD. Have their numbers declined? Loons cry out most nights, which leaves me wondering when they rest, are they upset by a late-night predator? And if so, what would attack a loon? A giant snapping turtle after chicks? A coyote along the shore? Anyone out there know the answer?

  3. John Clark says:

    Habitat loss in the rainforest is the main reason we seldom hear whippoorwills any more. We hear one about every third year. As for loon predation, I found this on a pond association website. “Predators
    Predation is a natural part of any healthy ecosystem, but some loon predators may benefit from their adaptability to human activities. Raccoons, gulls, crows, and ravens are the major predators of loon eggs and chicks. These animals are also scavengers on human refuse, and their numbers have increased as a result of the abundance of garbage near human dwellings. And humans often dwell near loons during the loons’ breeding season, bringing more predation pressure to bear on vulnerable nests and eggs.” Given that raccoons are nocturnal, I’d bet that might be the cause of some night cries from loonville.

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