Date: 11/2/19 3:26 pm
From: John Nelson <jnelson...>
Subject: [MASSBIRD] Tribute to Bill Drummond Reposted in Plain Text
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 insubordination.

“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

“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 wire.

“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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