It’s Totally Up to the Birds
I have to confess, on my first few “birding walks” led by expert birders, I asked myself “Are they making this up?” Most of the time, I never saw the bird they pointed out. When I did, I saw a gray silhouette against the morning sky while the guide remarked on colors, eye rings and wing bars. When I joined a Christmas Bird Count team, little brown birds vanished before my binoculars met my eyes, while my teammates rattled off lists like “6 Chipping Sparrows, 2 Savannahs, a Vesper, and a Lincoln’s…”
Now that it has been a year since the Christmas Bird Count and a year and a half since the birding walks, I would like to say I’ve caught up to my peers, but I haven’t caught up and probably never will. I’m better than I was. I know my regulars at Little Piney by sight or by song; but to identify a new bird, I still need a picture and my iBird, Sibley’s, and Natural Geographic. When birds fly in all directions, I’ll probably only identify a few.
For some people, birding is a skill, maybe even a sport. They train, study, practice, know where to go, when to go, etc. Good birders make bird sounds, and some birders use recordings, They have top of the line equipment, excellent concentration, patience, sharp vision, and clean glasses. For those birders seeing birds is mostly up to them–they know how to make it happen. Not me. When I’m birding, I believe it’s totally up to the birds. For one thing, the birds have to decide to come to Little Piney. I rarely seek out birds in other settings. Then, they have to decide to let me see them. Land on branches, Call to me. Look me in the eye. Be curious birds.
This morning started with a flock of birds. All together in one huge elm gathered Yellow-rumps, Robins, a Northern Flicker, a Downy Woodpecker, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Chickadees, and Eastern Bluebirds. There were surely other birds that I didn’t see. I identified some of them in the elm, and others as they flew to new perches–the Yellow-rumps and Robins headed to a pine tree. The Bluebirds swirled around a Bluebird house. A Woodpecker made his bobbing way to a utility pole. I heard the Phoebe say her name, and spotted the scolding Chickadee, last to leave the elm. I saw many more birds than I could count–dozens. They flew off in waves across the pond and out to the road where I found them again later in the morning. In the moment, I felt a little flustered–excited but frustrated that I couldn’t count all those birds for my weekly bird census. An expert birder would have done a much better job at the elm tree.
A Slower Pace
Happily, the pace slowed down after the elm frenzy, Two Mockingbirds were pleased to show themselves and pose for photos.
Down by the lake, a Great Blue Heron stayed in his tree for awhile, allowing photos as long as I kept my distance.
I turned a corner on the road and this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk was watching me. We held the gaze for awhile, and I took a few photos before I turned around leaving her to hunt. I encountered her again a bit later. I had walked right by her, my attention on the lake, looking for ducks. I heard a sweet, murmuring bird sound and turned to see her not 15 feet away. She was speaking to me. We connected again, and again I moved on.
Totally Up to the Hawk
Back to the Flock
After the lake, I met up with the busy flock again down on the road. This time the Flicker allowed a photo.
I still couldn’t count all the birds–warblers, Bluebirds, and others–but identified one more species for the day. I got a good look at a Chipping Sparrow, one of the first sparrows to return to Little Piney for the winter!
Blessed by Birds
The best moments of the day were, of course, the moments shared with the Red-shouldered Hawk. I regret trying so hard to count the birds at the elm tree instead of just enjoying the chorus of sound and choreography of flight. I’ll never be that birder who gets the count, I’m afraid, but that’s okay as long I’m the birder who gets to share a few sweet moments with a hawk.