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In which I embrace the process

May 27, 2012

Empathetic Birders! Yesterday was a day of spectacular birding gaffes on my part. I mistook a female redwinged blackbird for an exotic migratory species; I unintentionally insulted a Kingfisher by calling him a Blue Jay; I stared long and hard at an Upland Sandpiper, which turned out to be a piece of wood in a field; I deeply offended a female Rose Breasted Grosbeak by boldly stating that she was a disappointment compared to her male counterpart (to which she hissed and crackled and belted out a few call notes that taught me not to anger her any further). The list goes on. A year ago, I was too shy to even attempt to ID a bird. Now, I’ve grown both intrepid and entirely comfortable with being wrong 99% of the time. So it goes. I knew, from the outset, that birding was all about process; I guess I had no idea how humbling (and, surprisingly, enjoyable) that process would be.

The day began when my alarm clock rang at 4:20. By 5:10 am, we were on our way to Carden Alvar, a birding hotspot and a designated IBA (self explanatory acronym that means “important birding area”), much to the chagrin of the locals who aren’t fond of obsessive birders standing by their properties with binoculars. (We did encounter an unusually friendly local who told us where to stand to catch great looks of Moose (!) and then returned to show our fearless leader a photo of said moose on his iphone!)

We began the day with a fabulous look at a Snipe (Gallinago delicata), who looked just like this:

photo from wikipedia

(If I had any photographic talent whatsoever, and any serious back and shoulder muscles with which to support stellar photographic equipment, I’d take my own photos. If any of fabulous readers have photos they’re willing to share, please please let me know and I will credit your every snapshot, I promise!) Some of us with sharp ears even heard the snipe. I shouldn’t admit this, but since we’re on the topic of process and birding gaffes, I’ll be honest and tell you that the only bird song I can honestly recognize is the call of the Redwinged Blackbird. Yes, there remains MUCH learning to be done…

Carden Alvar is also particularly important since it’s one of the last remaining Canadian habitats of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus migrans), a critically endangered species. (FYI: the species is critically endangered here in Canada — not in Texas, it would appear, since they’re everywhere!)  And we saw the Loggerhead Shrike twice! He’s a fierce looking bird (much like the Northern Shrike, which I accidentally saw in April) who sports a black eyeband, much like Ray ban sunglasses.

Photo from here

And from there, the bird sightings exploded. We had Golden-Winged Warblers, an exquisite look at the elegant, poshly outfitted Prairie Warbler, Eastern Bluebirds (classiest bird around), Kingbirds (Bird with the Best Scientific Name Ever award: Tyrannus tyrranus), Eastern Phoebes (they get the Drabbest bird of the Day award!), countless Eastern Meadowlarks (I could have watched them all day, with the burning yellow patch on their tummy), Baltimore Orioles, Indigo Buntings (Most Stunning Color award!), Bobolinks (Best Hair Dye Award of the day!), Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and, possibly the piece de resistance, the American Bittern, who sat there posing for us — a little coquettishly, I might add — in the plain for over half an hour!

The day also included a fair bit of birdy banter. I also learned (from Ric and Anne of Rondeau Park) that there are three types of bird sightings: the seen (which is what I practice), the heard (what I wish I could do) and the heard about (haha). There’s also the “Just flew” bird — a very common one for me! And the “should have been here tomorrow” birders (I’m not one of those; I’m quite satisfied with the “Today” birds — usually an overwhelming spectacle anyhow). It isn’t easy to relate birdy banter — so much of it is so hilarious in the field and fails to translate well the next day. Oh well…

There were more sightings, including a corpulent beaver, but I ran out of steam after lunch. It was a long day, the heat was scorching (Birds and Words is a Nordic girl at heart; I tend to wilt in the blazing sunshine, even from under my Tilley Hat) and I fell asleep in the breezy car while other — more industrious birders — stood diligently at the marshes waiting patiently for Virginia Rails, Sora and other illustrious avian creatures to poke their heads out of the reeds and grass. Meanwhile, I reclined peacefully in the backseat, dreaming of Strawberry Rhubarb pie…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 28, 2012 6:50 am

    I love this post! You’re so funny. I really get the vicarious pleasure of your sightings without having to get up so early. I applaud you. I never could do that, even for such a worthy cause!

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