December at Rye Harbor and the story of the capsized duck hunters (December 2, 2012)

On my last day in New Hampshire in 2012, Anne and I drove out to the Seacoast to meet Kevin and Leo for some Friendly Toast. Afterwards, the birders went to Odiorne and Rye for some last Northeastern winter birding.

The weather on the coast was cold, gray, and windy. Not great for birds, but we were there. First on the list of photos are a pair of shots of a banded Black-capped Chickadee. Unfortunately, I can’t get a complete read on the band, in looking at a couple shots, I get the sequence “370” which is just about as useless as no numbers at all. Bird bands come in quite a few varieties with different amounts of numbers and letters on them. The silver band seen on the BCCH below is known as a US Fish and Wildlife Service Band, and it has a sequence of numbers much longer than three digits.








Moving right along, this next photo shows some of the Razorbills that we saw from Odiorne Point State Park. It is not unusual to see some Razorbills during a winter morning seawatch on the NH coast, but we saw many that morning and it turns out that this season has been something like an irruption year for Razorbill with records down into the Gulf of Mexico! You can read this article for that story:

Razorbills Invade Florida








The weather continued to prevent decent photography, and the birds themselves weren’t particularly cooperative anyway, but at Rye Harbor State Park we had some fairly close Snow Buntings, which are always awesome to see. Occasional Bonaparte’s Gulls did fly-bys while a variety of sea ducks distantly swam-by.









Finally we lucked out when a flock of Purple Sandpipers flew in! PUSA have held a special place in my heart since the first days I started pointing cameras at birds. Realizing that birds are cool, but not knowing much more than that, I took my new original Canon Digital Rebel to the seacoast and happened upon some birds that I identified as “Sandpipers.” A group of Sandpipers were sitting on Pulpit Rocks with the waves crashing in. Each time a wave broke on the rocks, the group of birds jumped up and fluttered back down. Thinking this was cool, I snapped some shots and submitted them to the Canon Digital Rebel photo contest and placed. Despite having won an award and prize, I wasn’t curious enough to look into the birds further and to determine their species – I may not have realized that there were multiple Sandpiper species. As I write this, it’s nearly midnight in Phoenix and I hear the Killdeer calling to each other in the nearby grassy field…




















While shooting the PUSA, Anne began yelling and waving to me from further along the shore. I couldn’t hear her, but she gestured towards the sea. As she persisted, I became irritated and thought “yes, I know there are Purple Sandpipers on the rocks – I’m shooting them now!”

She persisted. I walked over to her and she explained that a couple of duck hunters in a canoe had capsized off the jetty ahead – they might need help. “Call 9-1-1” she told me.

Calling 9-1-1 would have been the right move at this point, but then I thought about how expensive 9-1-1 could be with the ambulance and firetruck and police and hospital bills and doctors etc… “Let’s get closer and see if they really need help – they might be able to take care of themselves.”

Long story short: these two guys capsized while shooting at a Long-tailed Duck. They were both suffering from hypothermia, one worse than the other, but the guy in better shape was doing his best to keep his buddy’s spirits up. I’m proud to say that Anne totally knew what to do and I listened the second time she told me to call 9-1-1. Leo ran back to his car to get it warming up. Anne helped direct the hunters, clinging to their canoe, towards a safe landing spot on the harborside of the Rye Harbor jetty. We helped them pull them up onto the rocks as one remarked that he was already starting to warm up (a very bad sign) and Anne quickly got them bundled-up in our jackets as the ambulance arrived back at the parking lot. Despite being a little out of it, the more hypothermic hunter managed to hang on to his rifle all the way back to the jetty.

“Be careful, it’s loaded” he said as he handed it over to Anne who placed it up on the jetty. Once his wet clothes were off and he was dressed in Anne’s down jacket, he walked over to the rifle and carefully unloaded it. He then walked very carefully if unsteadily along the jetty to the waiting emergency crews.

If anybody knows the identity of these guys, they asked me to take their photo and I’d be happy to send it along…









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