Bernie's Birdship

Sunday, May 08, 2005

have you seen any good birds lately?

One of the best parts about birding, and hanging out with other birders, like at informational bird lectures and bird award presentations and whatnot, is the popular social query, “have you seen any good birds lately?” It’s a sort of greeting - a secret handshake if you will - sort of like knowing somebody has kids and asking them how the kids are, or knowing that a person is a writer and asking them if they’ve gotten anything published recently. You know a birder’s always looking for birds, so you ask: “have you seen any good birds lately?” And as a conversation starter among birders it NEVER FAILS. Seeing birds and not seeing birds, it’s all important to talk about. After all, high-yield birding requires a constant stream of information about weather conditions, sightings, and research. But the thing I like best about the question is that it pulls the person questioned back to the experience where he or she saw his or her last good bird. Reliving and remembering, and appreciating fully, bird-seeing experiences - the fleeting, wilderness moments - seems to be really what birding is all about sometimes. A few nights ago on a weekday evening Detta asked me if I had seen any good birds lately over the phone. Both of us had been working and neither of us had been out birding at all that day. The only birds I had seen were two grackles, so I told her about the grackles; how I caught a momentary glimpse of them out the window of a brown line El as it turned the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride curves south of Sedgwick, and how the two grackles on that rainy day in the leaf-bare upper branches of a tree next to the track were silhouetted against a grey sky in a noble, defiant sort of pose. Normally, I find grackles a little disturbing. And normally I would have just forgotten about seeing those two ever-so-common in the spring, summer, and fall grackles. But now after recounting the experience to Detta I think I’ll remember those grackles, and the way the sky looked grey that rainy day, and the way it felt going home after an exhausting day of work in my rumpled suit, and what the planet earth was like at that particular moment – I think I’ll remember that moment for a long time now.

This last weekend, however, there was no need to dwell on the ever-common Grackles. This last weekend Detta and I had close to fifty species both Saturday and on Sunday. Saturday was the Annual Spring Bird Census. On bikes and kayaks (no fossil fuels) Detta and I covered North Pond, Olive Park, and the North Canal. Detta’s got our raw data from our census participation; she’ll be the one filling out the forms involved, but highlights from the bird census (for me) were a male and female EASTERN TOWHEE in the crabapple blossoms outside the gate at Olive Park, 3 ROSE BREASTED GROSBEAKs on the river a few bridges North of where the Evanston Canal meets the Chicago River, and what I think was a SAVANNHA SPARROW hopping along the sidewalk in front of Detta in the field by the sewage treatment / crop circle looking fountains inside Olive Park (to be fair, Detta is wary of this identification).

On Sunday, first Detta and I hit Labagh (Lablah) woods. I wouldn’t be surprised if this weekend turns out to be the peak of the spring migration. After a winter subsisting on ducks when we could get them and seagull watching, looking from bird to bird at Montrose harbor for something a bit different from the usual ring-bill and herring gulls, LaBlah was a mystical fairy paradise, filled with colorful, bug-eating wonderment in warbler form. We had: PALM WARBLERS, BLACKBURIAN WARBLERS, BAY BREASTED WARBLERS, RUBY CROWNED KINGLETS, MAGNOLIA WARBLERS, YELLOW THROAT WARBLER, BLACK & WHITE WARBLER, BLUE GRAY GNAT CATCHER, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, HERMIT THRUSH, BROWNHEADED COWBIRD, YELLOW WARBLER, NASHVILLE WARBLER, BLUE WING WARBLER, ORANGE CROWNED WARBLER, YELLOW RUMP WARBLER, GOLDFINCH, a RED BELLIED WOODPECKER we didn’t see but we identified by its churs, a WHITE BREASTED NUTHATCH, and a PEEWEE. After a delicious tofu-based lunch, we hit the Magic Hedge at Montrose. There, we had (and I’m omitting the more common birds you’d expect to see there this time of year) a HOUSE WREN, OVENBIRD, BALTIMORE ORIOLE (like half a dozen hanging out in the top of a catalpa tree in the hedge where all the fresh woodchips are – this is probably the best tree in the Hedge for orioles and warblers if you can see them through the leaves) making their shy, tender quiet gurgling noises, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, CATBIRD, WOOD THRUSH, BOBOLINK, WHITE CROWNED SPARROWS (all weekend, this sparrow’s almost even outnumbered the house sparrows around), FEMALE REDWINGED BLACKBIRDS, SONG SPARROW, BARN SWALLOW, ROUGH WINGED SWALLOW, CASPIAN TERNS, COMMON TERNS, NORTHER (dorito) FLICKER. Earlier that day around Detta’s house we saw a HOUSE FINCH and a BLACK CRESTED NIGHT HERON.


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