I don’t know what it is about the little black-and-white birds that attracted me to them. I suspect it was partly because of the challenge involved. They’re difficult to find and even harder to see well once you’ve located one.
They’re also among the cutest of the seabirds, with a tiny black beak and a pudgy body that makes
|Dovekie at Trustom Pond NWR (Carlos Pedro)|
them look a bit like a palm-sized penguin. Despite their appearance, however, dovekies are not closely related to penguins, which are only seen in the Southern Hemisphere.
Whatever their appeal, I yearned to see one. So when a dovekie was reported from Point Judith about 10 years ago on a blustery winter day, I dropped everything to go see it.
Luckily, it was still there when I got there. Unluckily, it was so far offshore and the wind was blowing so hard, I could barely see it well enough through my binoculars and telescope to positively identify it. But I still put a checkmark on my bird list and crossed it off my most wanted list, even though the observation was far from satisfying.
When I was in the Arctic a year later studying narwhals, I was thrilled to see hundreds of dovekies swirling around me while on a small boat off the coast of northern Greenland. And yet even then, with the birds buzzing by almost within arm’s reach, I didn’t see them well. They never landed on the water for a decent view, leaving me unsatisfied once again.
All of which brings me to last month on a quiet, comfortable day during Thanksgiving weekend, when I was strolling the trails at Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown. It’s a great place to watch for ducks in winter, so I’m a frequent visitor – just as I am at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, another hotspot for winter duck watching.
But this time I stumbled upon the most unexpected sight. Just 20 yards from the shore of Trustom Pond was a dovekie. And yet its appearance in this unexpected place made me uncertain. I had to fight to convince myself that I was truly seeing a dovekie, despite how unmistakable the bird appears. Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing?
I was. And it was gorgeous. Its black back was streaked with white, its white belly looked soft and fluffy, and its coal black head made its black eye virtually invisible as it paddled slowly in a tiny cove. The view couldn’t have been better.
As I enjoyed watching the bird, I realized that I should spread the word among the local birding community. So I sent a few texts and the birders began arriving soon after, most of whom were just as thrilled as I to see a dovekie.
It had been a long wait to get a good look at a dovekie, but that’s part of what makes birding so enjoyable. It’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find or if you’ll find what you’re looking for. But it sure is satisfying when you do.
This article first appeared in The Independent on December 11, 2020.