We have guests in town this week on their own migration north, and one of them is an enthusiastic birder. So one of the events of the week had to be a bird walk with Wes Teets at Natural Bridge. We were part of the Tuesday experience that Wes reported via email - 75 total species including 23 different warblers. Needless to say it was a morning to remember.
Wes is a gifted young man whose remarkable eyes are topped only by incredible ears. He misses nothing, even at very long range. There were times when the pace was so fast in terms of different birds coming into view (even if only for a fraction of a second) or sounds with (to my ear) very subtle differences leading him to different identifications which were always confirmed when the bird popped out to be seen that it was hard to keep up even when you weren’t keeping a list. It was information overload of the first order that for me has now settled into a bit of a blur but still with lots of standout images.
Left to my own devices I suspect I would have gotten perhaps a third (maybe a quarter?) of the species we (he) identified. I might even have missed the Ospray over-flight, though it was pretty close, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have seen the Northern Harrier drifting over Short Hills, to say nothing of the Lincoln’s Sparrow and most of the warblers. Did I mention we saw/heard 23 warbler species?
This morning, on the normal walk with the dog in the forest that surrounds us I had an equally remarkable experience on a completely different level. It began in a pasture with the typical old friends in place. Goldfinches and Cardinals and Titmice and Song Sparrows were all singing familiarly. This week we’ve been joined by a group of Indigo Buntings and their distinctive song is now settled in my mind (I’m still pretty new to this. . .) because I could spend a few minutes watching and listening. The Bluebirds that are feeding young in a box were also about – nothing striking but everything pleasant. Further along the stream I heard one of the Louisiana Waterthrushes we’ve had this spring. They seem to be moving further up the streams into deeper cover this week.
Into the woods and up the hill were a couple of Wood Thrushes and several Ovenbirds calling back and forth. Because I took some time I was able to catch a glimpse of one of the Wood Thrushes – not something that happens often for me, and I also got more familiar with the buzz at the end of their song – a completely different sound that even seems to come from a different place. A few minutes later, as I was looking for a Red-bellied Woodpecker my glasses landed on a Scarlet Tanager – completely by accident - proving once again that its better to be lucky than good. Its always nice to see them even if they are pretty plentiful.
But the highlight of all of this came near the end, when I decided to hang around near a group of oaks and other trees that are just leafing out so the visibility is better. I always spend too much time looking for birds where I think I have a chance of actually seeing them, rather than where the sounds tell me they are. . . This time a gentle buzzing was followed by a little movement which was followed by long and often clear views of a Magnolia Warbler, with the brilliant yellow and deep bib markings and the white slash on the wing – just amazing. Even though (perhaps because) I had seen one just the day before as part of the flash card stream of sightings, this one was special, and I held on as long as my shoulders and neck would allow. It wasn’t a ‘big day’ by any stretch, but it was a lot of fun.
I’ve been practicing yoga for a number of years now, hopefully keeping me a little more fit and flexible as the years progress, and while I don’t focus much on the spiritual parts of that process I have come to understand that the practice is a journey with lots of explorations and understandings, some big and many small that only come with time. It strikes me that the education of a birder is a pretty similar and equally enlightening thing.