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Cabbages and Kings

By Avery Mann

"Welcome to the Harvard Ornithological Club," said the speaker. "I'm the president. "I'll introduce the fellows here so that the new people will know who they are." He paused, then called off or elicited names from the circle of twenty-odd birders (don't call them "bird-watchers") sitting around tables. "We haven't got too much business. Could we have the report on Drumlin Farm?"

A tall chap at the far end of the table stood up. "It was a pretty bad day when we went," he said. "They have seven nets with different colored bands for the birds they catch. We got just two the whole day long--a Junco and a Tree Sparrow. We saw another one with a colored band, but we couldn't tell what color it was."

"Before we go any further," said the president, "I want to mention the Christmas Count. For the new fellows, the Christmas Count is a bird census taken all over the nation during Christmas week. All the H.O.C. members should try to go on one. We want to see who can get the most species--it's sort of a contest."

"Well, maybe Jim would explain about Kent Island," said the president, motioning towards the Secretary-treasurer.

It seemed that some 30,000 gulls nested on Kent Island, an island in the Bay of Fundy. There also was a bird called the Leach's Petrel, which nested in burrows. "Petrels have a smell," said Jim. "You get down on your knees and smell the entrance to a burrow ... well, it's distinctive. You reach your arm in and if you're lucky you'll find a bird or an egg or both.... We would listen for the call at night. The call is in two parts--well, I'd know it if I heard it again."

The club advisor broke in, "It makes a sound like the rubbing of a wet hand over glass."

Jim told of the last day on the island, which included a feast of illegal undersized lobsters and the sampling of cooked gull egg.

"Herring Gull eggs are edible," said the advisor, "but they aren't particularly delicious. Tell them about the Eiders, Jim."

Jim mentioned attracting male Eider Ducks to shore. "Only the females stay on the island," he said. "We could bring the males in by hiding in the grass and waving a white handkerchief."

"Ducks are very curious," said the advisor.

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