December 2023

Vol. 51, No. 6`

Doug Chickering (August 14, 1941, to September 17, 2023): Plum Island Birders Lose a Dear Friend

Steve Grinley

Doug Chickering. Photograph by Bonnie Buxton.
Doug Chickering. Photograph by Bonnie Buxton.

Doug Chickering passed away suddenly at his Newbury, Massachusetts, home on Sunday, September 17, 2023.

We have lost a long-time friend and extraordinary birder, whose smile, enthusiasm, and willingness to share birds and the birding experience was felt by all who knew him. He was truly the ambassador of Plum Island birding. His reports on Massbird and his book Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler brought us descriptions not only of birds, but of the whole experience and excitement of birding. I have shared many of Doug’s stories with you in my newspaper column “Words on Birds;” he was a much better writer than I, and I always received such positive comments on his writing.

Plum Island birding will not be the same without him. We miss you already, dear friend.

An outpouring of remembrances for Doug flooded local social media including Massbird and the Plum Island and Essex County GroupMe sites. It is appropriate that I share some of these with you.

Tom Wetmore of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who birds the island every day posted:

Doug and I had a passing acquaintance until April 2002, when Rick Heil found a Pacific Golden Plover along the S-curves. Over the couple hours spent with Rick working out the identity of that plover, Doug and I clicked and began our 20-plus-year friendship.

After Lois [Doug’s wife] died, Doug and I birded on the island, often together, nearly every day, and when I say nearly every day, it is no exaggeration. We never planned where or when we would meet, but every day we would get together somewhere on the island. We shared the same stories over and over and over again, and they never got old. And there are so many new Doug stories that could be told…

His two hobbies were building ships in bottles and writing science fiction; he finished both a ship and a book recently. His occupation was machinist. He was in demand as a model maker for power plants. He made scale models of the plants, with all their piping and valves and power equipment; the models were then used to build the plants. He was credited for saving millions of dollars in one plant in western Pennsylvania by finding and fixing some impossible piping configurations in the original architects’ plans. The island is going to feel quite empty for a while.

Sam Miller of Acton, Massachusetts, wrote:

Very sad news. Glad he was birding, and I’m sure, laughing, on the day he died. Carla and I can’t recall ever a conversation with Doug in which he didn’t laugh. Great birder, great friend, great smile, great laugh. We’ll miss you and remember you, Doug.

Cherrie Corey of Marlboro, Vermont, posted:

For so many years I’ve looked forward to Doug’s posts. He had the gift of relating his intimate communions with birds in a way that uplifted and inspired us all. His Plum Island post on August 19, 2023, “A few unforgettable moments among the tree swallows,” was indeed transcendent, and perhaps prescient. May he be flying joyfully in their company now and always.

Sandy Selesky of Westford, Massachusetts, posted:

Such a shock! Doug was such a warm, friendly, and kind man and such an incredibly devoted birder! I check eBird almost every day for Parker River National Wildlife Refuge since I go there often throughout the year and just noticed that Doug was there every day last week, some days for five to seven hours and EVEN yesterday morning for 45 minutes starting around 7:00 am, at his usual daily arrival.

Over the years I would especially get to see and talk to Doug about his sightings during the May migration, usually running into him on the Hellcat boardwalk or at the S Curves. I always looked forward to his thoughts about his special birding moments on Massbird. His writings were poetic and inspiring! I loved to hear about his excitement each year on days when he found himself surrounded by the thousands of tree swallows during their annual gathering at the refuge in August since I feel the same emotion each time I witness this incredible event.

I will miss seeing Doug walking alone or with fellow birding friends along the refuge road and miss being able to wave or stop to talk to him whenever I saw him there. The refuge was his second home and he is hopefully still there soaring with his beloved birds.

Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport. His column “Words on Birds” appears in the Newburyport Daily News. Email him at or view his website:

blog comments powered by Disqus
Bird Observer logo

Our mission: to support and promote the observation, understanding, and conservation of the wild birds of New England.

Bird Observer supports the right of all people to enjoy birding and nature in a safe and welcoming environment free from discrimination and harassment, be it sexual, racial, or barriers for people with disabilities.
© Copyright 2024 by Bird Observer, Inc.