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`Life bird' is there, if one looks.

Byline: George Barnes

COLUMN: BARNESTORMING

It may seem a little geeky to say this, but a visit to Gardner Christmas week by a Townsend's solitaire was a lot more exciting than opening your presents and getting a new iPad, a slot car set (I've been waiting 56 years) or a box of chocolate covered cherries.

Tom Pirro, who has been a birder for many years and is always on the lookout for something interesting, found the bird off Chapel Street Dec. 23. For those who know little about birds, the reason it was so exciting was the species rarely finds its way to Massachusetts and when it does, it is most often near the ocean. Tom said the last time a Townsend's solitaire was seen in Worcester County was almost to the day 53 years ago. One was seen Dec. 25, 1957, in Worcester.

It is hard to imagine the chances of the bird being seen. Consider that it required a person with Tom's knowledge to just happen to be on Chapel Street at just the right time. Tom was passing by, scouting possible sites to visit for the Dec. 26 Westminster centered count for Audubon's Annual Christmas Bird Count.

During the counts, several of which are held in Central Massachusetts during December and into the first week in January, it is more likely that something unusual might be found because birders are out in large numbers scouring their appointed areas to count everything they can find. Tom said he saw a few swamp sparrows when he helped out with the Athol count, and a rusty blackbird and a yellow bellied sapsucker when he was counting in Groton. All three species are very rare this time of year, but not uncommon during migration and breeding seasons.

Still the Townsend's solitaire was a special discovery. It was what Tom calls a "life bird." It is a bird he has never seen before and a bird many birders from the area may never see.

In Orange a little more than a year ago, a scissor-tailed flycatcher made an appearance and became a life bird for many who got a chance to see the beautiful long-tail feathered creature.

The reason Tom found the bird is simple. He keeps his eyes open, hoping wherever he goes to see something interesting. He is out in nature and interested in nature. It is not surprising he often has something interesting to say on his blog.

If you are always looking at your feet, or you never go out because the latest video game is just too tempting to pass up, the world you live in will be small and limited. Your amazing moments will be limited. What you see on television or the Internet will never compare to seeing a bird like the Townsend's solitaire that has only been seen in Massachusetts a handful of times, or possibly what Richard Johnson photographed and included in the Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary's 2011 calendar - a fisher lounging in a Cooper's hawk nest.

There are only so many really special moments in life and they could be easily missed. Tom keeps his eyes open even when riding around for work. His discovery soon had others scurrying down to Gardner to catch a glimpse of and photograph the rare bird.

It is also intellectual curiosity that has people studying life around them, whether it is a bird, a frog, or even some tiny bug. Instead of getting it handed to them, preprogrammed and edited by people who just want to make money. Those people, the people who are wide awake and interested, make discoveries and move what we know about our world to new levels. They fill in the gaps for the rest of us to enjoy.

In 2011, Tom Pirro and the many others like him who spend their free time tramping around Central Massachusetts will be looking for interesting things and they will continue to fill in those gaps, making our lives much better for it.

Contact George Barnes via e-mail at gbarnes@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:678
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