In fall 1975, my husband and I went to Port Wing, Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, where his parents were fixing up a house for retirement. I’d never birded that far north before. In just a few days, I added 13 new birds, breaking 100 on my life list.
Whenever we’d visit over the years, I got into the habit of taking long walks, leaving while it was still dark and covering a six-mile loop on country roads that brought me through lots of habitats. I’d add extensions here and there when I had the time and energy.
During spring and summer, as I headed out the driveway in the moonlight, Upland Sandpipers called and Wilson’s Snipes winnowed from above, and Le Conte’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens sang in the pasture. On my very first of these walks, I saw 23 warbler species and the first coyote and red foxes I’d ever seen. At mid-morning, along a road in what is now Port Wing Boreal Forest State Natural Area, as songs of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Blackburnian Warblers filled the air, I came face to face with my first black bear.
I’ve taken variations on that loop through Port Wing hundreds of times since then, especially after we moved to nearby Duluth in 1981. I’ve spent a night or two there every early spring just to stand on the porch at dusk, listening to spring peepers and chorus frogs. Then I’d mosey down the driveway for sky-dancing woodcocks and drumming Ruffed Grouse.
I could count on specific birds in specific places: the spot where four or five Winter Wrens could all be heard at once, the little park where Northern Parulas always nested, the pond where a Wilson’s Phalarope might be spinning in the water, the Pine Warbler stand, the Veery thicket. My favorite spot was the pasture along my in-law’s driveway where Le Conte’s Sparrows so often popped up on a blade of grass, glowing like burnished gold.
My mother-in-law, 95 now, is living with us, and the house has just been sold. It’s wrenching saying goodbye to the house and to so much more: the frogs, the fence post where a Great Gray Owl once perched, the bluebird boxes, the feeder pole bent so many times by bears, and, perhaps most of all, the driveway — the start and finish of all those walks, the driveway where my children and their dad and Grandpa flew kites as I watched Le Conte’s Sparrows.
Bidding my final farewells, the words of Robert Frost’s poem “Reluctance” haunt me:
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appears in every issue of BirdWatching magazine. Subscribe. This article appeared in the December 2014 issue. Laura is a co-author of National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America and the author of Laura’s Birding Blog. In February 2014, she received the American Birding Association’s highest honor: the Roger Tory Peterson Award.
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