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Sandpipers and other revelations

August 26, 2012

Pre-autumn Birders! We’re getting into shorebird season, which means I’m once again confused and flummoxed by most of what I see. I’ve learned to ID a Killdeer (what progress I’ve made! Two years ago, I couldn’t remember if the bird was called Killdeer or Deerkill) with its distinctive double neck-rings, but as for the rest — I just stare in wondrous admiration. It’s a difficult season — shorebird season — but then again, every bird season (except for the first Robins and Red winged blackirds) is an uphill battle.

Speaking of uphill battles, I went out on my own last weekend, partly to test my own progress, and also because we were dangerously low on Birds and Beans Brazilian coffee (chocolaty finish, bird friendly, shade-grown, lovingly assembled, freshly roasted — does life get any better?) and so I headed off to East Humber Bay, binoculars in one hand, Sibley in the other and notebook in my backpack (The Ardent Birder recommends taking notes when in the field!). And, dear faithful readers, the results were dismal. I successfully managed to ID four species with utmost certainty: Cardinal (both male and female, which felt like a coup nonetheless because initially, I mistook the female for an exotic species), Great Blue Heron, Goldfinch, Green Heron (even here, I cheat a little; I found the Green heron on account account of an almost-friendship I struck up with a photographer). I suppose I also saw a million swallows, Canada geese, Mallards (and a bunch of other folk who looked like mallards).

Photo of the inimitable Female Northern Cardinal by Maia Bird from here. One of the few female birds who rivals the male in beauty.

Initially, I came home crushed. I’ve been birding — albeit not at all seriously — since spring 2010, and all I can recognize are four species? But then I thought about it  and realized that even if it’s just four species, it’s still four more than I ever knew existed two years ago, and four awesome birds that made my morning. And maybe that’s what I love most about birding — no matter what, there’s always a positive spin on the situation. Going out birding has challenged me to refine my goal-oriented thinking patterns; I’m becoming less consumed by achieving results than taking the time to enjoy the incremental progress. And that brought me to my less-than-eloquent revelation of the morning: Birding Rocks.

Yesterday, I met up with my bird group, and we headed straight for Pickering to find the Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) and there he was, amidst Killdeer, ducks, and other shorebirds, running from the humid sun. It’s not a common bird in these parts, and I was thrilled to watch it roam around briskly, displaying its all-round buffness and elegant black spotted plumage on its back and head.

Photo from here.

Yesterday’s sightings also included my favorite Great Horned Owl at Thickson’s Woods, along with sightings of a female Black and white Warbler, a Wilson’s Warbler (yarmulke and all), loads of chickadees (which meant that there were also loads of warblers in the midst, but they were nearly impossible to see amidst all the foliage), an army of Great Blue Herons, and a bonanza of shorebirds, most of which were so far away that even with a scope, I had a hard time distinguishing them. The caspian terns (which I managed to ID) seemed absolutely thrilled to see me, and the feeling was mutual. The day also include a curious scope rescue mission after a birder accidentally left his scope behind upon spotting the Buff-breasted sandpiper (and after we compared notes on the magical Phalarope of two weeks ago and other sundry matters) . I’ll admit, there was something minorly thrilling about driving around with an illustrious birder’s scope in my trunk. I suppose I ought to have taken a picture…

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