Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Birds

As a general lover of nature, I tend to find almost anything I encounter to have some fascinating quality. Amidst the mind-blowing beauty of the Teton’s gneiss and granite peaks, I’ve marveled at ants scurrying to and from their nest. Their cooperative network bringing in food 10 times their size. In Florida I’ve fallen in love with drastic change in vegetation when elevation drops a foot or two. Imperceptible change leads one through pine, oak, sawgrass and wetland. Forget the multi-thousand feet terrain of the west- nothing beats the biodiversity occurring between sea level and three feet!

So I suppose with an inherent curiosity, my interest in birds developed as well. Jason first discovered his love of birds by canoeing in the pre-dawn hours of New Hampshire, surrounded by diving loons and listening to their eerie call. As his enthusiasm built over the years I found it contagious. The more we traveled around the country, the more I began to realize that birds were absolutely everywhere! The same American Robins which hopped around the backyard were also popping in and out of Lodgepole Pine stands at 7000 feet in Wyoming. Atop a remote New Hampshire peak, a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl swooped in at dusk to check out a backpacking friend and me. This same species is also spotted regularly at urban parks in the Bronx. I certainly wasn’t running into moose or alligators everywhere- but with just a keen eye and the help of binoculars I found little feathered beauties!

The more I traveled and learned, the more excited I became by the natural history of each bird. Cactus Wren males furiously build nest after nest before escorting their desired female to see them all, hoping that she’ll be impressed enough to choose one and mate with him. Prothonotary Warblers, the length of my palm (not my fingers, just the palm!) and weighing about as much as 10 pennies, beat their tiny wings and fly 600 miles or more across the Gulf of Mexico each year without stopping. Bald Eagles lock talons mid-air and spiral earthward in an apparent bonding ritual before mating (or sometimes when fending off rivals). Every bird from the tiniest, brownest, most boring looking sparrow to the flashiest, fastest falcon has an amazing story and a unique niche in this world.

Going out birding with someone who has little or perhaps casual interest in birds can often renew my own sense of excitement too. One of my brothers is into extreme things: downhill biking, rally cars… but birds? It seemed unlikely! However when we took a camping and birding trip last week he was thrilled with what he saw. The idea of sneaking around off trail, hiding behind bushes and acting like a stealthy spy appealed to his adventurous testosterone side. But the birds themselves held appeal too. His enthusiasm grew with each sighting. He found the beauty of the Painted Redstarts to be unmatched. He delighted at the adorable bug-eyed appearance of the Acorn Woodpeckers. And our hour of sneaking in a canyon, searching for the very rare Rufous-capped Warbler was rewarded with three of the tiny birds landing within arms reach of him. For my brother, a seed of interest was planted and he loved seeing these creatures he hadn’t thought much of before.

I believe it was David Allen Sibley (bird artist and field guide guru) who wrote a piece a number of years ago, stating that watching birds appeals to almost anyone on any level. It can be passive or active; competitive or cooperative; urban or rural. If you’re in any way inquisitive about nature, birds can be a natural extension of that desire to learn more. Even watching a city pigeon carefully feeding and tending to it’s chicks can be heartwarming if given a chance! Sometimes passions and interests are difficult to explain to those who do not share them. During a bird walk years ago, our group spotted a Black-throated Blue Warbler and went crazy with excitement. Jason and I didn’t even own binoculars and could not see this tiny bird amongst the dense, dark undergrowth. Jason leaned toward me and whispered “We’ll never be like these people.” Oh the irony! After finally getting some binoculars we most definitely became those people and in the process learned that the beauty, the diversity, the stories, and the relative accessibility of birds truly set them apart in nature. It is from this that my passion blossomed. Perhaps with the next bird you see- an American Crow, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Downy Woodpecker- you’ll pause for a moment to really watch it and learn its story. And perhaps your passion will begin to blossom too!

 

Black-throated Blue Warbler

 

 

Lesser Goldfinch

 

 

Acorn Woodpecker

 

 

Rufous-capped Warbler (Level 3 Rarity in Florida Canyon)

 

 

Mexican Jay

 

 

Magnificent (female) and Broad-billed (male) Hummingbirds

 

 

Nutting's Flycatcher (Level 5 Rarity in the Bill Will NWR)

 

3 Responses

  1. Dad

    Your blog entry is contagious! The links are a nice addition. Amazing pics, as always. I’m glad you included that great story about Brian. Loved the irony of Jason’s quip about being “one of them.” HA! Your entry reminds me of “The Big Year.” No bino’s yet for me, but you’ve got my attention. :-)

    March 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    • Momchester

      I also remember a family trip in the Pacific Northwest when your other brother – an early and avid birder – had us stopping every hundred yards or so to peer through his binoculars at another feathered friend. Your comment as a disgusted 14 year-old? “Can we have just ONE day without birding?” I still chuckle thinking how ironic it is that you are now the birder of the family!

      March 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      • annie

        Yeah, I could probably write a whole blog entry about the things I should have paid more attention to as a teenager… oh the lost possibilities due to adolescent attitude! Thank goodness David is forgiving and now likes to go birding together :)

        March 25, 2012 at 10:55 am