Spring Diary: Chapter 4

May 5th

The last few days have been disappointing with few additional birds.  Where are they?  A whole new wave of migrants should be arriving any day now, although the cold north winds have probably kept them at bay.  Although I am pleased that I am increasingly recognizing bird songs, I realize that that this led to a change in my birding experience.  At the beginning of my learning curve, when I heard a new bird song, I would carefully stalk the bird, clumping through brush and mush until I finally spotted it in the binoculars.  With a rush of discovery, I would triumphantly confirm both my tenuous identification based either on call alone or visual alone.  The blue-winged warbler will always hold a warm spot in my heart since it was the first bird that I identified with the two pronged approach of sight and song.  It was at least a decade ago in Hartford, CT, where I was visiting the corporate office of Aetna on business.  The office was situated on a lush suburban campus, but a ring of brush was left intact.  At the end of the business day I headed to this margin in my work clothes, consisting of a thin silk skirt and a pair of party shoes.  (As a child, party shoes described any shoes that could not be used for sports.)  I first heard the unusual song of the blue winged warbler, which sounds something like a tiny person snoring, perhaps Sleepy from the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I then spent a good hour chasing the warbler around, in the process totally ruined my shoes in a swamp, and my very fashionable skirt was left matted with burrs.  But when I finally put the sight and song together I was giddy with excitement.

Today I heard a blue winged warbler and felt little compulsion to track it down.  Although wearing appropriate attire, I would have to depart from the beaten path, and the grass was wet and I am scared of getting ticks.  I also heard a Northern Waterthrush and merely nodded my head toward it in acknowledgement.  Perhaps my enjoyment of birdwatching is transitioning from the rapturous excitement of discovery to a quieter grateful appreciation.  I have noticed that in our bird banding group, our leader Caleb takes bird walks in between banding episodes without the benefit of binoculars, instead just appreciating the birds he can hear. 

But I also rejoice knowing that I am standing on an infinite learning curve, and with a little nudge of intellectual curiosity, the trajectories of this curve can head off in infinite directions.  Who knows, maybe five years from now I will have abandoned the crutch of binoculars, or will instead by besotted by dragonflies or butterflies, or perhaps like Darwin, earthworms will become my passion.

New Birds Seen:

Solitary Sandpiper

May 7th

We are now in the peak of the migration, with the early migrants still lingering, and newly joined by the later arrivals, so each tree is alive with birds.  I am reminded of a cocktail party we were once invited to years ago.  The invitation said from 6-8PM and I thought that we had made a mistake by arriving promptly at 6.  There is a certain awkwardness about being the first arrivals, and so it was with some discomfort that I approached the apartment door.  To my surprise, I heard the party in full swing inside, and I wondered how it was that everyone was so prompt.  And then just as we were about to enter, others left, thanking the hostess profusely for the lovely evening.  I was puzzled.  I later discover the hostess had invited three waves of people, some from 5-7, some from 6-8 and some from 7-9.  We were in the middle wave.  I feel that the migration is now in the middle wave.  Soon the kinglets will move on, to be replaced by the last wave of flycatchers.

New Birds Seen:

Pine Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Chestnut Sided Warbler

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

May 8th

I certainly should not be surprised at seeing a house wren in the field, although its name certainly implies that this should be a backyard bird.  In addition, the sweet jumbled song of this bird instantly brings back memories of summer lunches on my grandmother’s patio.  I suppose my interest in birdwatching traces most directly back to her, although she may have picked it up from her grandmother in the early 1900s.  Although she was more of a horticulturist, she always had bird feeders in her gardens and several birdhouses for house wrens on her patio.  I realized that certain bird songs, although most often heard in the deep background, can serve as audio prompts for powerful memories.  Many years ago our family celebrated a family reunion in Montana, and our host and guide suggested that we go on a canoe trip.  We were a sporting and adventuresome lot, and he naively assumed that we all knew how to canoe, which, it turned out was totally erroneous.  So off we went down some narrow river.  Although there were no rapids, there was a swift moving current and constant hairpin turns.  Disaster immediately struck, as one after another all but two of the canoes capsized.  I was in a canoe with my mother and daughter, and though we remained dry, my mother did have one near death experience; her head got caught underneath a wire cord stretched low across the river.  As our canoe moved swiftly forward I was unable to guide it toward the spot with the highest clearance and instead headed for where the cord was slung at its lowest.  The cord hit her square in the chest and then as our canoe moved forward, the cord marched up her chest.  As she leaned back the cord got caught on her neck and strained against her chin.  The bow of the boat plowed down and we tipped wildly as my mother tried to escape the imminent garroting.  With a big splash she escaped.  I was only momentarily relieved as I realized that I was up next and I would have to do a flat out limbo to escape a similar fate.  The story has been passed around our family many times, told and retold and embellished.  But the one thing that brings it immediately back to me is the song of the yellow warbler.  The narrow stream was bordered by brushy willow trees, which were absolutely filled with yellow warblers madly singing to establish territory.  I was in the stern of the canoe, and every moment I lifted my binoculars to try and spot one, the canoe would quickly careen off and slam into the bank on the other side.

 One day while driving in the car, the bird tape came on and out came the beeping sound of the white nuthatch.  The white nuthatch is a commonly heard bird in the woods of northern Michigan where we vacation.  I mentioned to my daughter, “I’m sure that you have heard this bird before at HuronMountain, particularly on the hike to PineLake.”  A smile spread across her face, and she said, “Yes I knew that I had heard it someplace before.”  I am sure that from that moment forward, the song of the white nuthatch will be an auditory anchor for a whole raft of summer memories.  

New Birds Seen:

Scarlet Tanager

Orange crowned warbler

Yellow Warbler

Warbling Vireo

Red Eyed Vireo

Nashville Warber

Wood Thrush (song only)

Posted in

Leave a Comment