Bird Report from Cocktail Hill

There’s a dingy summer cottage on the Sound. It’s surrounded by a marsh. In the backyard is a small rise about five feet above sea level, topped by a very primitive looking brick patio. There are two decent folding lawn chairs, a wrought iron rusted Mediterranean Garden style lumbar torture rack from the Torquemada Collection and a high back kitchen chair that started out as dining room chair but lost its social standing. A parade of cheap lawn and squatty beach chairs, each disposable and anonymous. In the middle of all this is a solid, sturdy Coleman cooler that serves as refrigerator and coffee table. We call it “Cocktail Hill”.

There are two configurations for seating on the Hill. The best, facing east southeast looks out over the harbor entrance at Guilford Point. Wide sky and views of the birdfeeder that seems only to attract house sparrows, chickadees and mocking birds. The second configuration is facing northwest. The highlights are the sunsets, Arcturus rising as the evening’s brightest star and the eagle aerie.

Over 1,000 beers have been consumed on the summit, but the main drink is vodka martinis, which is in my regard a true martini, although I prefer gin as the base. My secret learned from the uber-wacko Peggy is not to use ice. Never let the spirit touch ice. Put the bottle in the freezer for 90 minutes. Pour into a glass with the olive on the bottom and about a quarter teaspoon of olive juice. Then add the vermouth last and watch it mix around. I started keeping the vermouth in the refrigerator just to preserve the chill. Occasionally, fresh sour mix and tonic water change things up for the vodka and hill huggers.

At night, directly overhead are Vega, Altair and Deneb, with Fomalhaut sparkling in the southern sky and Capella in the adjoining corner giving Polaris a run for its money.

There’s always a contest to spot the first visible star, although sometimes it’s not a star at all but a planet.

Dusk brings swifts and then bats for a mosquito meal. It’s a delicacy this year because the drought left their breeding grounds dry.

The birds were in pre-migration mode, but the dragonflies were queuing up for their cross Sound mass migration. They go south for the winter too.

The actually bird report is: a great blue heron flying southwest, the hummingbird bee lining through the backyard and over the hill, several ospreys, (which are now as thick as the “always there” Gulls) gulls, a Red Tailed Hawk and a goldfinch. The sight of the day however was two soaring birds, a half mile away. The lower, darker shape was an eagle. Catching a thermal. Higher up was an osprey gaining altitude for its dive across Long Island to Asbury Park and points south. The secret privilege of the sight was watching them move in and out of the clouds, at first growing hazy and disappearing;  then popping out all brightly lit again in the sunlight. Gradually  the circling became higher and farther until they were invisible from the Hill.

Soon the flyway will be filled with bird migrants and our breath will fog from the chill. Perhaps the martinis will stay cold right on the Coleman coffee table. Just one of life’s little hopes.