When Birding is Life


The need to see birds lives in me. The ducks and swans that sojourn on the Chesapeake feed me all winter. But when spring arrives, along with the migratory songbirds, my desire becomes boundless.

Warblers, like this Chestnut-sided above, and Magnolia below, fly all night then descend into the trees to feast. One day they are there, a few days later, they are gone. The weather was favorable this year, and they moved through quickly.

I've been waking early. I don't want to miss anything.

Besides admiring their luxurious colors and songs, I enjoy being part of their world.

For a few moments, I simply get to watch them do what they do.

And mainly, they eat! It is estimated that "forest birds eat 1 million caterpillars on every square mile of forest every day"...

like this Yellow-billed Cuckoo snarfing down tent-caterpillars. He was quite a sight at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area in New Jersey last Monday, as he completely ignored his admirers and ate and ate and ate!

Oh, and that caterpillar statistic I quoted? That estimate was for pairs of birds, before they start feeding the nestlings. And doesn't even count the vast numbers of insects consumed.

Birds. Free to watch, and free pest control! What a deal!

Our job? Protect them.

Cats eat 2 billion songbirds a year.

Lights left on at night confuse birds who often fly into high-rise glass windows. In Galveston last spring, in one night, a violent storm slammed migrating songbirds into a 23-story building. The death toll: 395. I saw the photos, the stacks of redstarts, blackburnians, ovenbirds. I had to look away.

Houston Audubon offered the idea of a "lights-out" alert for high-rises when spring storms erupt. Communication towers kill 7 million birds each year--the birds attracted to the lights. Pulsing lights could be a solution.

Habitat loss is another key to the complexity of species survival. A big win in Maryland last year was a permanent ban on fracking, which would have disturbed critical bird habitat in the western part of the state.

One morning last week, as I headed down the paved trail in the park next door, a Wood Thrush, the newly-arrived bell of the woods, hopped out from the undergrowth.

He stayed right in front of me as I walked. Occasionally he stopped,

so I did too.

Usually they fly off, but this one just kept bopping along.

When he stopped, he would sing his gorgeous ringing ee-oh-laaay

I knew he was setting up territory, and letting females know he was available, but nevertheless,

I felt escorted. Serenaded.

I thought the day couldn't get better. Then I got to the pond.

Two residents, a male and female Wood Duck swam close by. Closer than I have ever been to them.

I can never decide whose coloring I like better--the male's show-stopping hues, or

the female's subtler browns, hints of purple and blue in her wings, and that stunning white around her eye. I've chosen to simply love them both, each for their own beauty.

Witnessing the arrival of migrants, watching the pair-bonding and nesting behavior of residents and summer breeders, and, of course, photographing it all, has taken over my days. I know I have been neglected my writing.

I even interrupted my 55-day yoga-meditation streak for 3 days when I was birding from predawn to dusk with friends for Earlham College Birding Big Day fundraiser.

I forgave myself. I took the break for birds.

For Birding Big Day(s), the more species of birds seen by alums all over the world, the more money raised for the college. We began at the Potomac in Maryland, and ended on the coast of New Jersey 3 days later.

All-in-all, we saw and/or heard 160 species.

This Prothonotary Warbler started us off as one of our first warblers seen and heard singing.

Each sighting, each song of bird, whether migrant or resident, makes me giddy. We cheered each new song, and delighted when we could find them through the leaves.

A bounty of gifts. And I am so grateful for each and every one.

#birding #birdphotography

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