Birding Into Spring
Updated: May 1, 2021
It rained all day yesterday. Just poured. And this morning when I walked outside the world was all damp and gray and if it wasn't for the past year's obsession with birding I may not have seen the Rose-breasted Grosbeak sitting above the chicken coop high on a locust branch. First one I have seen all year, guys, I was beside myself!
Grosbeaks, Orioles, Catbirds, Tanagers... soon the summer birds will all be home again. They are more than bursts of color and song - they are proof positive we made it through another winter. Through the blizzards and frozen pipes. Through the coldest mornings and numb feet. And here we are - standing together again on damp, warm, earth surrounded by jewels like the Grosbeaks.
I'll say this about birding: it changed the outdoors entirely for me. I always loved being outside. And I adored mammals - domestic and wild. I pined to see bears here on the mountain and am always delighted when I do. But birding to me was always something I didn't get. As a falconer I didn't understand just watching birds. I wanted to tell these people with binoculars pulled over on the side of the road, "You know, you can have that hawk as a roommate... You don't have to settle for just watching them." And those, my friends, are the thoughts and words of an idiot.
Because watching birds is it. It's not just identifying little beasties, like living flash cards you memorize. It's learning how the thousands of little souls that used to be background chatter are now living, breeding, interacting, and changing your own backyard. As a farmer I am watching songbirds nest in the horses shelter or in the rafters of the barn. We know a Wren's nest from a Swallows. We watch the White-Throated Sparrows pick up the kibble the pigs miss. We see the Ravens and Crows fly off with horse hair shedding and wool from shearing in their beaks for their nests. We learn the songs, and what they mean, and what is happening with the owls late at night or our nesting pair of local Broadwing hawks that now hunt right by the pond on our farm. We unlocked a new level of loving this place.
The other day Shannon lead me far into the corner of the farm's property and showed me a place to quietly sit below an old knotty pine tree. I was told to wait, and be quiet. I felt the soft needles that fell last winter below me. I watched the sun scatter light through the barren canopy. And then a song was heard, and when she handed me my trusty binocular Jon Katz gave me to a lifetime ago - there he was. A male ruby crowned kinglet! He was small enough to curl up into a spool of thread and when we played the female's call on her cell phone it darted within ten feet of us. Magic. Pure magic.
I keep seeing new birds, taking notes of all I want to see ahead. I'm not keeping any big life list or anything but I am always trying to notice the new warblers and finches and the return of species like the regal Grosbeaks. I am dying to see an Indigo Bunting and the elusive Scarlet Tanager again. And being a birder has made me appreciate my falconry so so much more. All those ducks, pheasants, grouse, starlings, etc - the birds our falconry birds hunt - now I know their stories as well as my hawk's. What was once a poem of hunters is now a ballad of a farm. I have a lot to thank birds for, but today, on Beltane Eve - I'd like to thank the Grosbeak. He made my morning.
*Grosbeak photo from allaboutbirds.com