Birds Of a Feather, Not Flocking Together


Sandra Neily here: Good news! Despite birders’ tendency to flock together in groups and share their spotting scopes, birding is actually a fine way to explore the outdoors with a friend or even grand-kids, without getting too close. You can drive separately, walk six feet apart but be close enough to ask, “What on earth was that?”

I once stood on a dirt road with the amazing Bob Duchesne while he heard and identified every bird around us. Now you can stand on a road in the Maine woods with Bob too. You should be smiling watching this video because he doesn’t seem to notice the bugs— just a wealth of birds. Spring migration and nesting time is birding time. (This will make you smile, guaranteed. He’s so into it.)

Maine owes a huge debt to Bob Duchesne, not only for his years of service in the Maine legislature, but also for most everything to do with the creation of the Maine Birding Trail.

At this time of distancing, with the help of the Merlin Bird ID (my favorite), you, too, can discover birds you never knew existed. (Merlin info below.)

You can even order your grand-kids special “kid” binoculars and, meeting up somewhere and keeping your distance, walk a field or woods road, or watch a pond together … apart but also sharing wildlife in intimate ways. Create a “seen” list and share it back and forth on line. Here’s a good check list.

Find kid binoculars here.

The Maine Birding Trail consists of 82 official sites. A free guide to download is available.

If you want more, get the “Maine Birding Trail: The Official Guide to More than 260 Accessible Sites.” Many are off the beaten track away from crowds. The guide has over 100 maps and secrets for finding various species. (Call your local book store. Most are happy to mail it out or deliver curbside.)

Now about the Merln Bird ID. It’s free. It’s perfect for a phone. In the Bird ID Wizard, answer three simple questions about a bird you are trying to identify and Merlin will come up with a list of possible matches. Merlin offers quick identification help for all levels of bird watchers to learn about the birds across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Tip: Cup your hands behind your ears and pull them forward a bit. This weird move acts like a sound funnel. Kids like this.

Or snap a photo of a bird and Merlin Photo ID will offer a short list of possible matches. Photo ID works completely offline, so you can identify birds in the photos you take when you are far from cell service.

Birds are central to my long delayed and now even more delayed novel, Deadly Turn. (Publishers are having a hard time, too.)  In it, birds and bats and Maine’s mountains and wind power are all wrapped into a murder mystery. I learned a lot about eagles, and while my husband thinks they are inferior to osprey, I am now a certified bald eagle fan.

In the following excerpt, the novel’s narrator meets one close up, and  initiates or imagines …  a conversation. (Sign up to get publication news and read the first three chapters.)


I didn’t see the deer carcass on the far side of the dam until a bald eagle landed on it. Each jab of his curved beak brought up something red and stringy. He may have been eating, but his intense yellow eyes tracked every move I made.

He wasn’t bald. White feathers overlapped his head and cascaded around his shoulders in a fashionable shag haircut. His feet looked like bright yellow rain boots with knives at each toe. I had a flash of a James Bond movie where lethal objects snap out of everyday items and kill people. A bit of white brow sagged over each eagle eye, gathering darkness into his stare.

I reached down to scratch my ankle. He swiveled his head almost one hundred and eighty degrees until his eyes locked onto mine—eyes so close across his narrow skull they didn’t even look cross-eyed. He just looked like the most intelligent, pissed off being I’ve ever seen. The huge bird had eyes that didn’t blink, not even when I sat on a log and hung my feet over the edge of the dam into the pond. Not even when I pulled off my shirt, dragged it in the water, and put it back on wet.

The eagle was offering a serious inquisition from a top predator to someone lower and more lackluster in the food chain. I felt like I was about to get arrested, so I thought about being polite. That looks tasty. Bet that’s something yummy the boy left you. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got a granola bar.

No closer. I already spared you once when you arrived.

Got it. You on personal terms with the boy?

I watch him. He watches me. He leaves me meat when he finds it on the road.

Roadkill? That sounds extra special.

Most humans would drive on by. You as well. This boy is not like other humans. The eagle ripped more flesh and gave it a slight toss to catch it in the air. Your kind doesn’t even eat what it kills.

When he buried his head in the carcass, I turned my face into the sun, feeling the edge of cool as shadows grew longer over the pond. At the sound of a rough engine, the bird grabbed a stringy chunk and struggled to lift it and himself into the air. One wing cuffed the edge of my ponytail, so I bent double and grabbed my ankles. At lift off, wind from his wings rippled the water. His shadow was as wide as the pond.

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in this year’s Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award, a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on the trailer and her website. Her Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn,” will be in bookstores sometime in 2020











About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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2 Responses to Birds Of a Feather, Not Flocking Together

  1. Tina Swift says:

    What a fabulous excerpt! Thanks!

  2. susanvaughan says:

    Thanks for this post and the video link. I’m a big fan of Bob Duchesne and read his column in the BDN, although I’m not much of a birder. I’ll be getting the Merlin ID too. And I hope your new book gets out there soon, great excerpt!

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