Date: 11/2/19 5:31 am
From: John Nelson <jnelson...>
Subject: [MASSBIRD] A Tribute to Bill Drummond
My wife Mary and I met our dear friend Bill Drummond when he was leading
our first Brookline Bird Club trip, at Plum Island in 1998. I tell the
following story about the trip to open Chapter 14, "The Great Marsh:
Shorebird Swarms and Swallow Waves," in my recently published book *Flight
Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds.*

John Nelson

Mary and I looked out past a tidal channel to soothing salt marsh. I heard
songs I couldn’t identify. We chatted with another couple, new BBC members
who wondered what to expect on a Plum Island field trip. We didn’t know. We
were novices too.

We stopped talking when our commander, Bill Drummond, turned
off his walkie-talkie and called our troop to attention. A rare bird, a
Loggerhead Shrike, had just been seen at a nearby marsh called Plumbush.
Instead of heading into the refuge, we’d form a caravan and drive back out,
closing ranks in case of civilian cars on the road. Several vehicles would
have CB radios, set to the birders’ channel, in case the shrike was found
in transit. If we spotted it, we should flash our headlights. If we saw it
once we were all on foot again, use hand signals--two arms straight up for
a definite shrike, one arm for an iffier bird. Don’t shout, don’t make
needless noise, don’t flail about. Spooking the bird would constitute

“Loggerhead?” Mary asked in our car.

“Beats me. Paul Bunyanish?”

She flipped through our old Peterson guide. “It’s like a
mockingbird with a mask. It looks just like this other type of shrike.”

“Well, I’m not flashing my lights. Not unless it lands on our
hood with a sign: ‘I am a Loggerhead Shrike.’”

At Plumbush, along the Plum Island Turnpike, we eased out of
our cars and fanned out for a search. Minutes later we quick-footed back
toward Bill’s upraised arms. Mary and I looked where others were looking.
“Get on this bird,” Bill commanded, “if it’s the last thing you ever do.”
We finally spotted it, alone on a wire, bold like a mockingbird with a hard
black mask right through its eye and a nasty hook at the end of its beak.
The shrike dropped into marsh grass and returned, empty-beaked, to its

“Butcher bird,” said a guy beside Mary.


“The shrike. It kills other birds, then it impales them.” He
grinned, as if cuing Mary to show some feminine revulsion. Mary didn’t
blink. Two other guys high-fived. Mary and I eyed each other. This wasn’t
exactly the NBA, but we liked to see people having fun. It was a cool bird.

The Loggerhead Shrike, seen in May 1998, is the only bird I
remember distinctly from my first official bird outing in the Great Marsh.
The species hasn’t been seen since in Essex County, and it wasn’t until
years later, in Texas, that I watched a shrike pounce on a Bushtit, carry
its prey to a barbed wire fence, and impale it, not for sadism or storage
but to keep its meal fixed to one spot. The morning’s other birds have
blurred together with warblers and waders from other outings, often guided
by Bill Drummond. Former BBC president, leader of countless trips, Bill is
loved for his generous mentoring and teased about his military regimen on
field trips. “Get on this bird if it’s the last thing you ever do,” is his
famous command, used to keep his troops intense whether they’re birders on
the edge of an Ecuadorian cliff, as we later were, or students in his math
class looking for an oriole he’s just spotted outside the window. To live,
Bill needs birds.

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