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June 18, 2012

Understanding Birders! The more I go out birding, the more I’m realizing that there are the illuminating days and the ordinary days. The more surprising thing I’m realizing is that I don’t mind the ordinary days! (This, people, is very unlike me. I used to be all about extraordinary events all the time; anything short of extraordinary didn’t hold my interest for long.) And, for the record, I’m being generous when I use the word ordinary. Really, what I mean is a seven hour outing in the humid mid-June southern Ontario weather wherein I see a grand total of three birds. A few years ago, this would have irritated me. I would have written this off as a complete waste of a day.

But now I put a different spin on such ho-hum days. When my husband asked me about our sightings, I reported: “Oh my god, you wouldn’t believe how close I was able to get to a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Horned Lark and a House Wren!” Husband: “But you saw more than just those three birds, right?” Me: “Well, not exactly.” Husband: “You woke me up at 6:15 in order to see 3 birds?” Me: “Today, I really got a chance to get to know them better. It’s not about quantity!” At which point, we agree to disagree.

To tell you the truth, we showed up near the Hamilton airport to see none other than the Red-Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and instead of that bright red-headed wonder, we were greeted by a few Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) with their glowing red caps and their barred backs. I caught a glimpse of them in a variety of positions: drumming holes into a post, flying, engaging in philosophical debate on a dead tree branch. We spent about a half hour waiting for the desired woodpecker to appear (he never did), and happened upon a Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) walking proudly across the road.

Photo from here.

Here was the culprit who inspired Mikhail Glinka to compose The Lark , a famed piano piece (thanks to Mily Balakirev’s arrangement) that terrorized me over the course of a summer when I had to learn it for my piano exam! How momentous to see theactual lark face to face and to hear the Glinka-Balakirev soundtrack as we made fleeting eye contact.

As the weather grew progressively more wretched, we drove to the Dundas Conservation area and saw the day’s piece-de-resistance, the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), poking its head in and out of a hole in a dead tree. I watched the bird do this greet-and-retreat routine until my arms and neck hurt and I had to retire my binoculars. Not much to report about the House Wren’s physique or wardrobe choices: uniformly brownish brown. However, as a member of the Troglodytidae family, the House wren boasts tremendous singing aptitudes (like its relatives, the Winter Wren, the Eurasian wren, the Sedge wren, Marsh wren, Carolina Wren, etc; who knew there were so many wrens?!). I did get a chance to watch the wren throw its head back impulsively, open its mouth so wide it made me wonder whether House wrens had experience visiting orthodontists, and intone a grandiose “come hither” melody. We didn’t wait to see whom the bird managed to attract, but I’m sure the results were in no way disappointing.

All in all, a hardly formidable, but nevertheless worthwhile day.

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