Time -- October 1994. Place -- Cape May Hawk Watch, NJ. Let me tell you about Pat Sutton, she was a Naturalist/Program Director for CMBO (Cape May Bird Observatory) for years and years…best there was! I always knew this, but one incident sums it up. I was the official Hawk Counter at Cape May for several seasons and Pat would visit regularly with (and without) groups she was leading. Pat was always enthusiastic, got people involved, and had a wealth of knowledge about all wildlife. I loved when her groups would visit the hawk watch, I could scan for hawks and eavesdrop on what they were discussing at the same time.
Apparently a Great Blue Heron took flight from out of the reeds and began to fly across the pond in front of the hawk watch. Pat immediately points it out to her group "Great Blue Heron flying to the right, ooh, look at its blue-gray color, long neck, long pointy bill…gorgeous!" "OK everyone, now it’s turning back to the left, heavy wing beats, astonishing coloration, boy will you look at that…beautiful." As Pat was describing this bird with the same enthusiasm one would describe the Grand Canyon, I felt myself tempted to look over.
Let me be honest, here I am, a 20-something, intense, fanatical, obsessive, crazy hawk watcher and above me was a sky littered with hawks. I blew off chasing mega-rarities even on slow days because I wouldn’t leave the hawk watch ‘til dark in the chance that I would miss a hawk. I put in 1,023 hours on the platform that year! I had counted the largest one-day flight of Great Blue Herons ever recorded (3,200), and have seen thousands otherwise...we're talking just another Great Blue Heron...booooring in my eyes. But I was compelled to look at this heron or I would miss perhaps the greatest Great Blue Heron I would ever see. I did it, I dropped my binoculars to watch this Great Blue Heron, and saw that every single person there was watching it too. Funny thing, I noticed how gorgeous that heron really was, loping over the pond with it’s impossibly long neck sticking out before it had settled into a normal flight posture. No one else could have gotten me to take my eyes off a hawk to look at a heron except Pat Sutton. There is no better teacher of the natural world, and Pat’s husband Clay -- an amazing naturalist himself -- would agree!
Labels: commentary, waders